At the birth of the twentieth century, Americans were obsessed with European royalty, their own recently ended Civil War, and their rising status among nations.
In The Port of Missing Men, Meredith Nicholson takes all three obsessions and weaves them into thriller that can still keep today’s readers’ full attention.
The Port of Missing Men by Meredith Nicholson
1907 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook#13913. My grade: B.
Spies sent by the Austrian Prime Minister failed to recover an important document that can determine who will succeed the present ailing monarch.
Count von Stroebel meets in Geneva in March, 1903 with a young man calling himself John Armitage. Armitage owns a ranch in Wyoming but could easily make people believe he is the legitimate heir to the Austrian throne.
Von Stroebel shows Armitage a photograph of the thief, a man known to Armitage as Jules Chauvenet.
Armitage and Chauvenet are both pursuing Shirley Claiborne, the pretty daughter of an American ambassador.
Before they part, von Stroebel tells Armitage, “Do something for Austria.”
The novel has no more character development than necessary for a thriller: Nicholson puts all his energy into the complicated plot.
Needless to say, the story ends with criminals brought to justice and love triumphant.
The plot and characters are readily forgettable.
The tidbits of European and American cultural history Nicholson includes will stick.
After a slow opening, Harold MacGrath’s The Puppet Crown turns a geeky sovereign bond situation into a complex tale of political intrigue.
King Leopold of Osia, cousin of the late king, came to throne because a confederation disposed the king’s brother, Josef, and “placed him on [a] puppet throne, surrounded by enemies, menaced by his adopted people, rudderless and ignorant of statecraft. ”
The Diet authorizes Leopold to borrow for public projects; a departing British diplomat purchases the bonds.
When the loan is due 10 years later, in order to effectively foreclose on government of Osia shadowy political power brokers attempt to prevent the loan from being paid or extended.
The main character is Maurice Carewe, an American journalist turned diplomat. He arrives as Osia is preparing for the wedding of Princess Alexia to the crown prince of Carnavia. The prince will pay off the bonds as the bride’s dowry if the bond holder, Baronet Fitzgerald, does not extend the loan period. The prince, however, has disappeared. Maurice unwittingly identifies Fitzgerald, who is using an assumed name. Thus begin cloak-and-dagger, dark-of night adventures with skilled swordsmen and uncloaked, dark-of-night adventures with deceitful damsels.
The Puppet Crown ends in a shockingly unexpected manner: realistically, not novelistically.
The valiant hero does not get the princess.
The cruel, scheming duchess does not get her comeuppance.
And there’s no happily-ever-after with the Austrian Empire on the rise.