Dolores Gordon-Smith writes the Jack Haldean mysteries set in the 1920′s. The fourth in the series, A HUNDRED THOUSAND DRAGONS, is just out in Britain and the USA, published by Severn House. Dolores describes her books as “Agatha Christie-style”, and indeed, as with Dame A, there are plenty of ingenious puzzles and interesting characters, including ex-WW1 air ace Jack Haldean himself. There’s another compelling dimension: under the glitter that veneers the “world fit for heroes” lurk the disturbing shadows cast by the First World War, woven into the lives of Jack and his whole generation.
Dolores is here to tell us about Jack’s latest adventure, starting with its intriguing title…
I have to confess to a feeling of quiet pride about the title of A HUNDRED THOUSAND DRAGONS. My original idea was to call the story Ozymandias after the poem by Shelley (you know the one: “I met a traveller from an antique land…”) as that comes into the story as well. It’s a brilliant poem that’s inspired at least one Star Trek title (“That which survives”) and all sorts of science-fiction-y stories, as it has that mysterious feel to it.
I thought better of it, though, when it turned out that my Dad, who’s usually sound on poetry, had never heard of Ozymandias and was very hesitant about saying the word. It’s the Z and Y that do it and I have to admit, if you don’t know the poem, it does sound a bit like a Russian football team. And that really wasn’t the effect I was after. Add to that the idea of a title that a prospective reader couldn’t bring themselves to say with confidence, and I was back to square one.
Now although I usually confine myself to prose, I can, when necessity demands, whack out a rhyme. In the course of the story Jack discovers a book in the Savoy Hotel, abandoned by the mysterious Mr Madison. Madison has written a poem on the fly-leaf:
“A hundred thousand dragons lie
Underneath an Arabian sky.
The Silent Ones, when asked, will measure
The hidden way to dragons’ treasure.
With a body once so fair,
A princess guards the dragons’ lair.”
I don’t think I’m suffering from false modesty when I say that the astute reader will notice this isn’t up to Shelley’s standard. Shelley, for reasons best known to himself, didn’t actually write a poem that tied in perfectly with my plot. (Yup, I know, you just can’t get the staff!) So, I had to content myself with quoting Ozymandias and turn to and write the thing myself. And there, when Ozymandias poofed out on me for titular purposes, was the perfect title within Madison’s poem.
Jack, when he finally unravels what the dragons and the princess and so on and so forth means, leaves London and pops off to Arabia, in search of a lost city of the Nabateans. There’s more to the story than that, of course. There’s a car crash and a fire (based on a real car fire I was once in,) corpses, mystery, secrets and the healthy suspicion that things are not as they seem.
And as it’s set in the 1920’s, you don’t get some spoilsport of a forensic scientist spoiling everything with DNA. It’s a great time to set a story and, I imagine, part of the reason why detective stories were so popular between the wars. There’s enough science and method to make a logical investigation credible but not so much that intelligence becomes swallowed in procedure. And, maybe because there’s room for individual brilliance, the amateur detective could flourish and take on really knotty problems with the best of Scotland Yard.
And that’s exactly what Jack does. Even if he doesn’t like the answers….
Visit Dolores’ website at www.doloresgordon-smith.co.uk