The Golden Keel

Although this book was written just 17 years after the end of World War 2 it is just as readable today, with its historical allusions to Mussolini’s missing gold, as it must have been back in the early sixties. The search for lost gold is an evergreen subject for an adventure story.

The beginning  is almost biographical. Peter Halloran, the hero of the tale, sets off for South Africa at the end of the war just as the author had done. The character’s wife is called Jean and the author’s Joan. There are other similarities, however it’s not long before life and story part company. Maybe, as experts in the field often point out, if you are embarking on a writing career then write about a subject you are familiar with. For a first novel this would be especially true.

Bagley chose to write in the first-person, a difficult technique for many, but rewarding for the reader because of its intimacy. The ingredients include a loner-hero, all too human with human failings but an underlying decency that sees him through; a mixed bag of characters that are known to him because of the ship-building business he ran before the adventure, a gang of suitably bad and brutal baddies for us all to hiss and boo at, and of course the author trade-mark technical detail and ingenuity that brings the story to life.

Although it didn’t happen often in the author’s work, this novel features a character, Metcalf the mercenary, who isn’t exactly on the side of the angels but is lucky enough to make it into a second story, The Spoilers, six years later.

The title is the give-away as to how the good-guys intend to make away with the loot once they’ve found and retrieved it. But can they outrun their chasers, or will the gold of Mussolini sink without trace beneath the waves?