I
have no skill or aptitude for card games. A child could beat me at poker. I’m not
good at second-guessing. I can’t remember dealt cards, and have trouble
remembering which combination of cards beats another.
But,
if I knew nothing about a particular card game, and had to develop a scene in a
novel that depended on how the game was played and who would win it, I would
immerse myself in a study of the game and its milieu until I had dreams about it.
Finished with the novel, I would retain some knowledge of the game but never
concern myself with it again. The dreams would stop.
One
of the personal delights of reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels is a pure
fascination with how Bond could take over a card or roulette game, or could make
crucial observations about the way an enemy played golf. My favorite Bond coup
occurs in Moonraker,
in which he not only detects how a villain is cheating at contract
bridge
, but devises a way to foil the man and cause him to leave the
exclusive men’s club in London in a hurried and angry huff. And it is one of
the few novels in which Bond doesn’t get the girl at the end. That was
Fleming’s dark sense of humor at work.
Cyrus
Skeen, the detective hero in The Black
Stone
, the sixth title in the series, finds himself in a similar situation.
He knows little about Islam, and only a little more about Judaism. He is an
atheist; a man’s religion doesn’t concern him, only his rationality (or lack of
it). He is the wealthy son of lapsed Presbyterians. At one point in the story,
he remarks to a character, “I can
mock Judaism as well as the next religion, but not to a Jew’s face.” Or to
any man’s face, regardless of his religion. He demonstrates this rule in previous
titles in the series. Religion is as far from his premier concerns as is
contract bridge. And that naturally reflects on the author’s concerns, as well.
In 1930, the time period in which the story is set, Islam
was an alien creed few Americans had heard of. It was not regularly thrust into
their consciousnesses as it is today. Nor was Judaism. But it is Islam, and not
Judaism, that poses a peril in the story, just as it does today. Judaism is a
religion; its adherents are not out to conquer or destroy the world. Islam,
however, is more a political doctrine than it is a religion, and its inherent
nature commands its proponents to seek global submission to it as the sole alternative
to death. I have written extensively on this subject in the past, and won’t repeat
any of my arguments here.
Skeen is advised to familiarize himself with Islam. He
undertakes that task. By novel’s end, he has not reached the same conclusions about
it as I have; he does not yet see that it is essentially political. What he
does note is its savagery, particularly where Jews are concerned. Later, he
realizes that the savagery can also be visited on non-Jews. Today, we know that
no one is exempt from the jihadi
agenda, not even dissenting Muslims. Skeen has only a mere handful of victims
of that savagery to observe. We have millions.
In The
Black Stone
, Islam, its iconic and probably mythical prophet, its core
texts, and its practices, are liberally mocked. This would come naturally to
men in Skeen’s time. Political correctness in thought and in speech did not
exist. Fear of offending Muslims was a mindset reserved for our own time. The creed
is too ludicrous for anyone to take seriously. Skeen doesn’t even bother trying
to imagine what Mohammad looked like. He just assumes that Mohammad was the Billy
the Kid or the Clyde and Bonnie Barrow of his day, a brigand and a thief and a killer
spreading “the word” by force, intimidation, and death.
One issue I do raise in the novel, but not to
distraction, is the role of Western governments and Western oil companies in
enabling Islam to become the threat it poses today. Oil companies were fairly
certain that vast oil reserves lay beneath the blood-soaked sands of Arabia
(not yet wholly Saudi) and in Persia, now Iran. Western governments, chiefly British
and French, after World War I, carved up the former Ottoman Empire into utterly
arbitrary Mandates which were later granted the status of sovereign states. Oil
companies sought the aid of Western governments to interpose themselves on
behalf of those companies in negotiations over exploration and drilling concessions
with tribal leaders who were more successful in conquering and/or massacring
their rivals. This is essentially the history of the Saudi
dynasty
that we know today, a family of squatters that thrives on stolen
private property. Persia had a different background and a different history. Under
President Herbert
Hoover
, the U.S.
recognized Saudi Arabia
on May 1st, 1931.
So, I do not focus exclusively on the fatal
pragmatism of Western governments and oil companies, but raise the issue as a tantalizing
clue to our current dilemma. Skeen’s solution to dealing with nomadic
barbarians, had he been faced with the question, would have been to recommend
that the companies drill, drill, drill, and if attacked by Ibn Saud or Hussein
Ali, or any other Arab mobster’s tribe, to call in the Marines. And probably to
plant the America flag on the whole sorry region, as we have on the Moon.
At the end of The
Chameleon
, in which Skeen has discovered and foiled a Nazi Bund, Skeen tells
his wife that “Something wicked this way comes.” In The Black Stone, he runs head on into a
wickedness he could never have before imagined.