Book Review: “A Chinese Command” by Harry Collingwood (1915)

Image result for "A Chinese Command" by Harry CollingwoodHarry Collingwood, a pseudonym for naval-adventure author Joseph Cosens Lancaster, delivers here a non-stop adventure that is totally on par with a modern favorite of mine, Clive Cussler. The comparisons between the two authors are too glaring to overlook. Like Cussler, Collingwood’s hero is a man’s man built of gristle and integrity whom trouble always seems to find, no matter where on the globe he might be. Murray Forbisher is a century-old Dirk Pitt, and stout Captain John Drake is his own, sometimes-superhuman Al Giordino. Together these men battle pirates, stave off international war, discover lost cities, unearth buried treasure tied to real-life historical events, and fight against the ruthless power-hungry who lie hidden within their own ranks. Filled with blood, dungeons, shipwrecks, cannibals, and jungle warfare to boot, A Chinese Command is well worth your time, if a writer like Cussler floats your boat.

Opening in March, 1893, this adventure follows Murray Forbisher from his broken career in the British Navy to his captaining of a gun-smuggling ship off the coast of Korea. With both Japanese and Chinese armies threatening this sick cousin-nation, Forbisher finds himself captured and eventually commissioned into the Chinese Navy (an historic possibility) as they set to protect themselves from Japanese invaders. Countless little adventures keep this story moving along at an active pace, and I had no trouble finishing it quickly. The only annoying part I remember of the story is how Collingwood wrote the Korean’s accent, a man who ended up sounding more like Tolkien’s Sméagol than any Korean I know: “Me lathel watch filst, mastel,” he pleaded; “me no sleepy. You sleep now, mastel; me look out.” (50)

This book is just my style, fitting fully adventurous fiction into true, historical events. Admittedly, some scenes were too outrageous to believe, like this little nugget about Captain Drake who finds himself overboard in the hottest part of a naval battle, just after a Japanese ship has sent a torpedo his way:

As the deadly missile approached, hissing its way along the surface of the water, Drake stopped swimming and awaited it, and, as it swept past, flung his arm round the smooth, glistening machine. His arm was nearly torn from its socket, but he managed to get a grip upon the thing just forward of its greatest diameter; and, once he had secured his hold, he was not going to let go again. Then with fierce, strong strokes Drake began to kick out with his feet, pushing strongly at the nose of the torpedo as he did so; and, wonder of wonders! the menacing head gradually swung away from the Chih’ Yuen’s side. She was saved! (224)

Hard to believe, sure, but still it’s something that a Juan Cabrillo or a Kurt Austin might have attempted in similar circumstances. The only thing missing in A Chinese Command is a touch of romance, which is actually a bit refreshing. I don’t think that even Clive Cussler could pull something like that off!

©2016 E.T.

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