From the Bookshelf: We Three Kings, by Edward Cline

P1040848Merrit Fury is back at his office in NYC for Mr. Cline’s second Novel of Suspense, We Three Kings.  He is trying to go about his import-export business, when he becomes drawn into a web of international political power that will stop at no means of achieving its end, let alone following the laws of New York or the USA.  Except for the help of two disgruntled NYC police officers, Fury is on his own to overturn the heavy hand of a Saudi sheik and complacent US State Department officials.  Enough said about the plot, lest I leak any secrets that you should find by reading the book. We can just say that the all those in power have read his files about his activities in Hong Kong from Whisper the Guns.

We Three Kings addresses issues related to international political relations and the Middle Eastern nations.  Fury has little concern for the inner workings of treaties, negotiations, or compromises, except as these intrude on his business activities.  In his opinion, the monarchies which control the Arabian peninsula are not much more than elite thugs oppressing their citizens and stifling business opportunities.  Fury is thoroughly Manhattan, where thugs commit petty crimes and should be dealt with swiftly.

He enjoyed the solitude of an empty street, and especially of this street.  Much of his working life had been spent here… Architecturally, the glistening, rain-soaked hulks that loomed over him in the darkness were the most hideous he’d ever seen, many of predating the First World War.  But they were all of granite and marble and limestone dressed on steel and they had endured a cruel and callous century.  So he felt a kinship with them: endurance.

One of these petty crimes is going on as Fury leaves his office.  He breaks up the incident, lets the victim scurry off, and dispatches the two muggers.  Soon, he will learn that this was more than a petty crime, but part of the larger plan of intimidation by a Saudi sheik to corner the market on certain collectables.  Fury, by circumstance, ends up possessing the one item that the sheik wants.  Fury has another possession that the sheik does not understand, the ingenuity of a freeman to act on his own behalf for something he believes in.  The sheik only understand obedience, of his family, his body guards, and politicians who bow to his demands rather than risk retaliation.

Mr. Cline divides the book into three sections, possibly the Three Kings alluded to in the title: A Question of Terms; A Question of Methods; and, A Question of Sovereignty.  Each of these sections will clarify the conflict between the freeman and the autocrat.  While Mr. Cline slips in lots of discussion about politics and economics, you will not be dozing during We Three Kings.  There are lots of fists to duck, shotguns to deflect, cars to lose at stop lights, and gruesome blood spurting to dodge.  If you are inclined to doze, you best carefully read the sections in which Lieutenant Lambert keeps himself awake in a pitch dark vault as he plans his escape.

Fury explains the term that he sees as the flaw in contemporary US society, during an  interview with Lieutenant Lambert, who is investigating the outcome of the mugging.

“Do you know of the in terrorem clause, Lieutenant?… It’s a legal term usually applicable to the execution of a will.  By it an heir can lose what he inherits if he so much as threatens to contest the contents of the benefactor’s terms.  The clause is used by the deceased to prevent heirs from claiming more than what the deceased wishes them to inherit… I don’t think that I need explain the principle to you, Lieutenant, and how it applies to modern times and politics.  Don’t rock the boat as we approach the rapids, or you’ll be tossed overboard.”

Soon, Fury and Lambert will be at risk for being tossed, maybe into the East River, for contesting what the sheik, Quamisi, wants on his terms.

“And as for this end,… Dam butlabl dam!!…  he knows what they mean: Blood demands blood!…  You are aware of what I have done to foreign workers in my land when they flout our laws and customs!…   We own what we can destroy, and we can destroy this country  by turning off many, many spigots.  So pray refrain from discussions of ownership.”

Though Fury does not know the specifics yet, he understands the conflict between his terms and the sheik’s terms.  Mr. Cline symbolizes this with a reference to Scotland’s conflicts with, and submission to, England in a painting.

Lambert asked, nodding to the painting on the wall, “What’s that?”

Fury turned to it.  ” ‘Scotland Forever,’ by Lady Butler.  Also, know as ‘The Charge of the Scots Greys,’ a British cavalry charge at Waterloo against some of Napoleons best infantry.  They cut the infantry to ribbons, and then the Greys themselves were decimated by the French lancers…”

“Not a very happy ending for the Greys,” commented Lambert.

Fury said, “There a certain species of courage that knows no consequences.  For it, death is almost beside the point… It reminds me of my own perspective.”

Regarding the methods, the middle section of the book sets the freeman and the autocrat circling each other with ever tighter grips on their respective terms.  Fury considers himself committed to the situation with an unclear outcome, possibly that of the Greys.  The sheik has never known someone to defy him, especially regarding a material possession.  With each circle their tactics become more harsh, with the potential of outwitting those who believe they are in charge, or crushing those who do not smile and follow orders.

He took a table by himself on the mezzanine of a coffee shop near Grand Central and ordered a London broiled steak.  The thrill of danger ahead always gave him a big appetite. 

The sheik is hosting a holiday feast himself, and invites (e.g. orders) Fury to attend.  The event is less what he or Fury are interested in, but more a forum for the sheik to request that Fury turn over the collectible item and forget about the other events that have occurred to this time in the novel.

“I shall make this as brief as possible,” he said, “so that I may return to the festivities.  I do not need to be reasonable with you or with anyone else, Mr. Fury.  However, you are the first man to slap my face with his erudition, with his keen perception, with his courage to apply it.  I regret having been so smug with you.  You have my apology.  And you are the first man of the West I have ever had to take seriously.  You are not a cipher of the modern faith of myopic desperation or cynical ambivalence.”  Quamisi’s brow knitted when Fury did not respond.  “Please, Mr. Fury, give me credit for liking you.”

Fury merely shook his head, and stared at Quamisi as he would at any panhandler.

When demands, flattery, and threats do on prompt Fury to act, Quamisi turns to more brutal methods of kidnappings, beheadings, imprisonment, destruction of antiquities, with increasing precision.  The police are called off from investigating the original crime.  The US State Department tries to follow Fury to prevent him from informing on the activities of Quamisi, and to persuade him to comply with Quamisi’s request.  This leads to the question of sovereignty of US citizens on US territory being oppressed by foreign nationals.

Sovereignty defines the legal boundaries and authority of a state.  Fury views the US federal government as evading this responsibility, while appeasing nations to avoid conflicts.  Upon traveling to Washington, D. C., to meet with State Department officials, he ponders the workings and contradictions of the capital city.

Of all its monuments and majestic buildings, only the Iwo Jima group at Arlington and the Jefferson Memorial had touched him….  They contradicted the spirit of that city, which he considered a bustling colony of parasites.

Fury confirms his views in a verbal exchange with the State Department officials, who deny his charges.  Rather they stand by their affiliation with the sheik.

…when greater friendships are at risk, your rights are quite superfluous.

Sovereignty is about asserting power.  When the state will not uphold its authority, others will fill the void.  Fury sees the fight will be between him and the sheik.

“Mr. Fury, it would appear that, after all has been said and done, you are not taking me seriously.  How many more demonstrations of my power and will are needed to convince you?”

As the plot broils to its conclusion, Fury, and the second NYC police officer who realizes that he knows what has gone on, discuss their plan.  Fury holds a faint hope that informing the politicians and press will stir an impulse to investigate what may lay in ashes by the time they read copies of his letter.

“Here this might interest you.”  He handed Myer some papers…

Myer sat down and looked at the sheets.  It was a letter to the President of the United States.  He glanced at Fury once, then read it. It was three pages long and told everything about Quamisi… “Do you think he’ll care?”

“He might,” Fury said.  “And if he doesn’t, the press might…”

“He must know what’s going on,” Myer protested.

“Not necessarily,” said Fury. “Government’s grown so big that he can’t know what every little section head it doing.  But whether or not he knows is beside the point.  I’m not anyone’s sacrificial offering, never have been, and never will be.  I don’t care to live in a world in which I’m made to be one.”

Though Quamisi has flaunted the sovereignty of this nation throughout the novel, when he is cornered, without his retinue of armed body guards, he attempts to trump state sovereignty with international sovereignty.  Fury asserts the sovereignty of the freeman instead.

Quamisi turned around and faced Fury.  “You are not being gallant, Mr. Fury!” he protested.  “This is outrageous!  I have… diplomatic immunity!”

Fury smiled.  “Not while you’re in my power.”

A major theme of Mr. Cline’s novels and blog is that government is not your friend.  In We Three Kings, governments are represented by the Saudi sheik, and the US State Department officials.  The former sees no authority other than himself, or at least himself as an extension of the royal family.  The  later are complacent bureaucrats who live under the in terrorem clause.

The dynamic of these two styles of authority is that the sheik can do nearly whatever he deems necessary to achieve his interests, while the bureaucrats avoid conflict to maintain their positions.  Fury sees this as fertile ground for exploitation and oppression.  One need not worry about being a freeman, when one is occupied with assuring his or her position.

Fury is the freeman.  He seeks to go about his business without interference from either demanding authorities or appeasing bureaucrats.  He does not initiate crimes, but is not intimidated from acting when he encounters wrong doing.

When reading We Three Kings, one must consider the historical context in which Mr. Cline wrote and set the novel.  It was first published in 1980, therefore, I conclude that he originated the story in the 1970’s, after Israel had established its military presence in the Middle East, and the OPEC nations had carried out their oil embargo.  Jimmy Carter might have been the president, and Iran might have been returning to Islamic rule under the Ayatollah.

What I found interesting about Mr. Cline’s selection of the antagonistic character, Sheik Quamisi, was that he was not overtly focus on being muslim, though this is alluded to several times, but being of the Saudi royal family.  When compared to Iran, Iraq, and Syria, the Saudis appear to be our “friends” in the Middle East.  Mr. Cline firmly places them in the category of “enemy”.  Thirty years on, we still hold “peaceful relationships” with the Saudi government.  I suspect that Mr. Cline would consider them just as much an enemy of the freeman now, as then.

When September, 11 2001 “changed the world”, our government’s focus continued to be on the usual suspects in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Syria, with Afghanistan tossed in because of the take over of the their government by the hard-line Taliban, and harboring of  the “master mind” of 9-11, Osama bin Laden.

But, how many remember that he was from one of the Saudi’s wealthy families?  How many remember that one of his major claims for attacking a USA and world target (World Trade Center) was that the USA and world were intruding on what he considered holy ground for muslims?  How many remember that part of this intrusion was the air bases that the Saudis permitted the USA to build around the Arabian peninsula?  How many remember that the contracting company that built these airbases were the bin Laden family?  The circles of “friendship” grow smaller and smaller, with in terrorem preventing any government or military officials asking with these were a wise idea.

And, while we were getting military bases strategically located to protect our national interests, how many of us remember that the primary financial backer of the Islamic schools which indoctrinated young men in hate of western nations, were the Saudis?  I suspect that Fury would have considered Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan merely thugs of different weights.  But, he would have kept a wary eye on the Saudis all the while.

As to the style of We Three Kings, it has many elements of action-adventure tails.  What sets it apart from many similar stories that come out in multiple sequels is that Fury is neither a comic book hero, or someone who should have died-hard years ago.  He does not have a mild-mannered alter-ego persona between beating up bad guys.  In fact he is rather unlikable at times.  He is also not invincible.  Until the last pages of the adventure, I was not sure who would come out alive, if anyone (except that I know that there is a third Novel of Suspense to read).  Fury does not come equipped with an arsenal of high-powered weapons and overwhelming number of comrades.  He, Lambert, and Myers have a hand gun, gas can, and fast food utensils to fashion a victory with.  Mostly, they survive because of their ingenuity and endurance, traits of the freemen.

So, today, the 4th of July, we celebrate our freedom with too much to eat, drink, and fireworks.  Consider freedom.  Contemplate the autocrats of the world who would subjugate your freedom, or the bureaucrats who would forfeit your freedom for international friendship. Consider whether in terrorem looms overhead.

P.S. Given the number of reference I have made in this blog, I suspect that red lights are going off at the NSA.  Hey, guy, hope you enjoyed reading this.  Do leave a Like, so I know you’ve been around.  Better yet, leave a comment.  Freedom is about sharing ideas.

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About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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4 Responses to From the Bookshelf: We Three Kings, by Edward Cline

  1. Barneysday says:

    Love the review. Great job. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. You can reach back into recent history and bring current comparisons like no one else! Love the last paragraph. Hope they’re all paying attention. (still chucking..)

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Thanks. Sometimes talents can also be burdens when we see blunders in the making, but perceive having little control over the events. At least it goes the otherway too, as I look back at personal history and see how past decisions have provided opportunities that I might not have otherwise projected.

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