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The Fear Dealers

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Mayflower, London, 1974
(price: 50p; 176 pages)
first published in 1974 by Cassell & Co

The blurb on the back:

The Eastern Dream lies in the mouth of Nagasaki harbour. The biggest oil tanker in the world, she carries a cargo of half a million tons - and she has been turned into a floating bomb. The captain is Maitland, the agent of terrorist fanatics who demand a ransom of a hundred million dollars from the Japanese government. Only Cronin, a boozy, womanising security officer, thinks he has a chance to thwart a catastrophe that would eclipse the atomic explosion of 1945 ... That is, if he can keep off the booze and the women.

opening lines:
The sun dipped behind the mountains of Taiwan; it radiated reds and pinks and oranges, streaking across the blue of the sky itself. It would be a good night in Taipei and in the East China Sea.

The premise is fine: the captain of an oil tanker and a few select members of his crew take over the vessel (an act of piracy rather than mutiny, it's explained, since the captain's involved); acting under the influence of a terrorist group and threaten to blow it up, thereby destroying a city and causing the world's worst environmental disaster. The fact that the city in question is Nagasaki is a bit tacky, but hell, this is the mid-Seventies and the combination of the twin threats of international terrorism and the oil crisis should have been enough.

Sadly it isn't quite. Because they're not really terrorists. There's no explanation of what their ambitions are. They want money and, er, that's it. Which makes them gangsters in my book. There's no political agenda to the action, and the motivation of the characters is sketchy at best. Furthermore, there's a subplot involving the romantic life of the oil company's head of security that's entirely superfluous.

Ideally, a novel of this type should have been thinking of film rights, playing off contemporary fears within a disaster movie context. Unfortunately what we've got is a TV movie at best, and a Thunderbirds episode at worst. An opportunity missed, I'm afraid.

For those keeping track of these things, Robin Cade was a pseudonym of Christopher Robin Nicole, who also wrote under the names Andrew York, Christopher Nicole, Peter Grange, Mark Logan, Christina Nicholson and Leslie Arlen.


From the maker of...

The Face of Evil
Another terrorist novel? Why not?

Paul Bryers, Hollow Target