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The Devil's Oasis

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2005

    Does its job . . . adventure of the old fashioned kind!

    Third in a series, this book takes Bartle Bull's motley assortment of African adventurers to the battlefields of North Africa in the early days of World War II. The first two books were great tales but suffered from a certain disappointing similarity and a jumpiness of narrative which took us back and forth among the different characters and various sub-plots. This time, though, things are a bit different. Though we still have the jumpiness there are no battles in the bush or safaris, except for a brief moment early on when white hunter and protagonist Anton Rider is wrapping one up, just before lighting out for Cairo to woo back his estranged wife Gwen, who has relocated there after attending medical school and becoming a physician. On arrival in Cairo, Rider finds Gwen playing mistress to a slippery French archeologist and unwilling to reconcile with him because of his adventurous ways. Meanwhile his grown son, Wellington, and nearly grown son, Denby, are keen to sign up to fight the Jerries and Eyeties in the newly developing war, causing still another rift between Gwen and Anton. Their proper British friend, the somewhat incompetent Lord Adam Penfold, rounds out this little group which is again bound together by their common friendship with, and devotion to, the Goan dwarf Olivo Fonseca Alavedo, the very kinky and always scheming capitalist miser with the heart of gold who keeps them all in the chips despite their unworldly ways. Olivio has his family of five beautiful daughters by his off-stage African wife (for some reason, throughout all the trials and tribulations of this group, she never makes an appearance) and his one dwarf son (the spitting image of his dad . . . though why he is the only one to inherit dwarfism while his daughters are all perfect specimens is never addressed or explained). Their old friendly enemy, Ernst von Decken is there, too. He's high tailing it to Rommel in North Africa to salve the pain of having been on the losing German side in East Africa during World War I. This time, relying on a peg leg to replace a foot he lost in the prior book, A CAFE ON THE NILE, he is quickly inducted into Rommel's inner circle and ready to beat the 'Englanders' at last. Anton, of course, is keen to do his duty for a Britain he left as a lad of 18 and has not seen since, even as Wellington, born and raised in Africa, enlists to do his. Gwen, rather annoyed by it all, flees Cairo for Alexandria to do her duty there caring for the wounded in the overcrowded hospitals, while Olivio has uncovered a secret on one of his landholdings that brings him into conflict with a certain French archeologist, as well as the Egyptian authorities. While Anton and Wellington are off blasting Eyties and Jerries, Olivio must outwit the man who is out to steal what he has found and who will stop at nothing, including assassination, to get his way. As before, we are treated to a generous helping of sexual coupling, though it's less off the beaten path this time than in the prior books, as Wellington falls for Olivio's surviving eldest daughter, Saffron, and Anton cavorts with Ernst's American wife who has paused to dally a bit in Egypt on her way home to the states in the wake of Ernst's desertion of her for the glories of a dreamed of German victory. Anton leads his long range desert reconnaisance unit deep into Libya, enemy territory controlled by the Italians and Rommel, while Wellington takes his stand at a little known oasis on the road to Tobruk which Rommel must take if he's to move on and seize Alexandria, Egypt and all the rest of the oil rich Middle East. There's lots of action and good fun for those who want to lose themselves in a 1940's style adventure set in the exotic locale of North Africa. Bull does a marvelous job of conjuring up that world though I think, this time, he was a little too specific in the technical details as he lists the various vehicles on the two sides interminab

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