My wonderful fiction publisher Cumulus have written this blurb (blush, blush) about The Birdcage, my first novel, coming out next Spring. I hope it intrigues you! (Can I write that? My old English master hated that usage — sorry, Frank…And I’m not sure what he would have made of the book!)
The Birdcage, by Clive Aslet
Salonika, 1915: a city more than half-Jewish, which – until a few months ago – was one of the jewels in the Ottoman crown. After a brief Bulgarian interlude, it is now suddenly Greek. A city nominally neutral, but teeming with French, British and Serbian armies, to hold it against the Austro-German forces to the north, with their Bulgarian allies. A city seething with intrigue, where café society pursues its way unperturbed, within earshot of the fighting, where the foreign soldiery seeks its pleasures among the shabby streets, and where the native inhabitants are eager to make from them what money they can. This is The Birdcage – named after the miles of tangled barbed wire which separate the city from the fighting to the north. It is the Casablanca of WWI.
In Clive Aslet’s sparkling fiction debut we see how this kaleidoscope of nations, cultures and political ambitions shifts and re-forms around a group of English men and women, blown here by many different winds: the military; young nurses from a Women’s hospital which has been shipped out to tend the wounded; seasoned soldiers, pulled back from Gallipoli; mysterious intelligence officers. The young art student – talented but uncouth – who is surprised into love of Elsie, a doughty young nurse; Isabel, the slightly aging beauty of the Surrey Hills, who finds she is not immune to the glamour of a Serbian officer who has nothing to lose and little to offer; ‘Simple’ Simon, who pursues spying and antiquarian studies with equal enthusiasm; the Kite Balloonists, who must trade off a sort of historical chivalry towards the enemy against the need to fight and survive in this world so foreign to them.
Welcome to a world of perilous ascents – and abrupt descents – from military kite balloons; of madcap journeys by mule, by Wolseley motor car and by foot over the grim northern mountains, where the opposing armies are locked in combat; of U-boats lurking in the waters off the city; of sinister and dangerous Enver Effendi, who says he is Turkish – or is it Bulgarian? Or Even Venezuelan? What is his game? Where is all the petrol disappearing to? The breathless ride is just beginning, in a tale where the spirit of P G Wodehouse meets the world of Biggles and R C Sherriff, and the sense of time and place is uniquely vivid and real.