Of all the conflicts of human history, that between the haves and have-nots is the most enduring. The owners determined to keep the profit, the workers demanding a better wage. Both feel in the right. When negotiations are fruitless, each resort to force. Strikes. Strike-breakers. Broken heads. Broken bodies.
The Striker by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott 375 pp, 2013 Michael Joseph paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops. 695 baht
More than a few countries experiences this, government generally siding with the owners. There have been cases of rebellions and revolutions. Alas unions haven't always been the solution, the dishonest ones all too often the problem. For owners and workers alike, the 20th was the century with the worst animosity between them.
Though still continuing, the conflict no longer has the scribes inking up their quills to keep the theme at the forefront of our minds. With the occasional exception. A recent one is The Striker by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. The story is set in 1902, about a Pennsylvania coal mine.
The miners are at the mercy of the owner, living with their families in shacks on the property and paying rent from the miserly wage. Iron and Coal police, Pinkerton detectives (read: thugs) and armed company overseers spring into action at the first sign of unrest. Suspected union organisers are fair game.
Sabotage is the only weapon the miners have, but the owners employs it too, and blames it on miners. Apart from killing miners, property is damaged.
The Van Dorn Detective Agency sends their best man, Isaac Bell, to ferret out the actual saboteurs. A Cussler ongoing literary creation, Bell does just that.
It takes the chief detective 10 years, bodies piling up along the way, to uncover a plot to kill US President Theodore Roosevelt and put the wealthy boss of a mining empire in his place. Climax is followed by anti-climax. There is a strike, neither side satisfied with the compromise ending it.
Memories of Germinal, a mine disaster in France, still send shivers through me. Clive Cussler is no Emile Zola, but writes a good thriller. In his numerous stories, solo and with co-authors, the reader has been introduced to a plethora of fictitious protagonists. Dirk Pitt is the Hercules of the lot, but Isaac Bell is more credible. And his star of silent movies wife is a sweetheart.
The Iron King by Maurice Druon 340 pp, 1956/2013 HarperCollins paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops. 395 baht
After innumeral copies, imitations, variations and permutations, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has slipped behind another period latched on to be historical novelists: the Crusades. To be sure they lasted for centuries before petering out, but the first two at least were memorable.
Though the Saracens, led by Saladin (Syrian), outnumbered the Franks led by English King Richard I (the Lionheart) and French King (St Louis), their battles were evenly matched. The Knights Templar were at the forefront of the attacks. They were celibate, in time of peace good administrators, untainted by corruption.
Their virtue was their flaw: They made money, which led to their becoming bankers. They lent at interest. French King Philip IV (The Fair) raised taxes to finance his wars, the provinces constantly in rebellion. Falling short, there was nothing for it but to keep borrowing from the Templars, whose main base was Paris.
Unable to repay, The Fair sanctified his greed by ordering the arrest of all the Templars his man could lay their hands on in 1306. The charge were heresy and witchcraft. Historical documents record all this, not least the horrendous torture of their Grand Master for the next seven years. Refusing to confess, he was ultimately burned at the stake.
Confined to the facts, historical novelists have really had to stretch their imaginations for plots for their stories. All try to answer the questions: What become of the Templar fortune, as Philip IV didn't get it? Among them, the late French author Maurice Druon penned The Iron King.
His contention is that a minister of the French King embezzled the money. How he did it without The Fair's knowledge is glazed over. It took him a few years to spend it all, but 'poof!', it's all gone. An Italian banker knows, and he's not telling.
We are given a picture of the contrasting royal courts in Paris and London, incessant intrigue, jockeying for power. A love affair is thrown in, a royal stag hunt, the constant struggle between the Pope and monarchs for supremacy.
The Knights Templar of old have blended into the Freemasons, who don't appear to be rolling in wealth. Perhaps all the wealth really is gone? However, historical novelists won't admit to it. To do so would mean to focus on some other period. Then again, there are lots to choose from.
About the author
- Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer