RICHARD DOYLE – Imperial 109. Arlington, UK, hardcover, 1977,. Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1977; Bantam, paperback, 1978.

   Richard Doyle is one of those writers who had a good if not spectacular career in England and Canada, but only had one or two books cross the Pond to have any success here. His best known novel, Flood, made into a two part mini series in England which played here, wasn’t even published in paperback in this country that I know of.

    Imperial 109 was. It’s one of those grand hotel in the air mixes of adventure, soap opera, and intrigue, set on ”the S30C Empire class ‘boat’ of Britain’s Imperial Airways was one of the most beautiful aircraft ever to fly, carrying passengers in a style and luxury unmatched since the passing of the great air ships a decade earlier.”

   While it’s not Ernest K. Gann’s The High and the Mighty or Ken Follett’s similar Night Over Water, it is a big entertaining tale full of incident and action with attractive characters caught up in everything from trouble in the air to racing cars along the Nile.

   Richard Doyle is named for his famous illustrator great grandfather, but it is his more famous writer grandfather Sir Arthur Conan Doyle he takes after.

   He’s no ACD, but he is a good writer and this is more than entertaining fun.

   The hero is pilot Captain Desmond O’Neill whose job is keeping passengers and crew in on piece and make a gold delivery on what should be a routine flight, but isn’t right from the start when his incompetent co-pilot fails to detect a fuel leak and they are forced down over Africa in the Sud in an outpost far off their usual track.

   Among the complications beyond the leaky fuel line are the weather, the perils of long distance navigation, and the all too human worries involved including a crooked financier on the run, an Italian nobleman whose sexy wife is pursued by her lover, a passionate mysterious sheikh, and a pair of Jewish refuges, father and daughter, pursued by the Gestapo.

   The book is divided into three sections, part one being the flight from South Africa for the Sudan, Khartoum, and Cairo, with part two the layover in Cairo, and the final section Alexandria, Athens, Rome, London, and onto New York where a hijacker waits ready to shoot down Imperial 109 for the gold they are transporting.

   Admittedly the novel is structured more along the lines of a bestseller than a suspense novel. There is a bit of sex, more than a bit of romance, adventure, stalwart heroes, bad guys with unambiguous motives, and incident piled on incident. It’s hard not to imagine the book as one of those big late fifties early sixties films with a cast of international stars careening from one set piece to the next. In fact it is hard not to indulge in a bit of fantasy casting while reading it, which is one of the pleasures of this sort of book.

   Not to oversell it, but if you are looking for a charming adventure set in the pre-war period (1939) with an attractive cast of characters, plenty of incident, the romance of travel and flying from the classic era, and a well balanced mix of bestseller candy dish elements this is a pleasant diversion.