Thursday, June 01, 2017

Andorra: The Mysterious Balloon Man, by Albert Salvado

Andorra is a tiny country between France and Spain with a population of some 70,000 people. So it was no surprise to find that there seems to be only one fiction writer from the country with works available in translation. Fortunately Albert Salvado is a highly prolific writer. I tried to find a book actually set in Andorra but had no luck, so I chose his most recent book, The Mysterious Balloon Man, which turns out to be the first in a series with the overarching title, "The Shadow of Ali Bey".

It is a spy story, but also a historical novel, set around the turn of the eighteenth century, and taking place mostly in Spain. Alfred Gordon, a civil servant employed by the British secret service, realises that the nobility, the traditional spies, are not doing a good job. He recruits Tom Headking, a young middle class Englishman living in Spain, where he is on the run after killing Lord Brookshield's son in a duel. What follows could be described as a "rollicking tale" in which women feature mainly as the object of lust for the male characters. It is enjoyable enough, if you can overlook the sometimes laughable characterisation of the women.

Headking discovers a treatise on hot air balloons written by Polindo Remigio. This turns out to be the pseudonym of a Catalan, Domingo Badia, who was to become a spy with the name Ali Bey, who is apparently an actual historical figure. It appears that he will figure more prominently in subsequent books in the series. However, I don't think I was captivated enough to seek them out.

The book was translated by Marc Brian Druckett but there is no publisher named on my copy, leading me to believe that it may have been self published. The translation is of reasonable quality, but the section at the end on "other books by the author" has been very poorly translated.

Still, given the lack of choice for this country, what I ended up with could have been a whole lot worse.

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