I wanted to write a longer entry about this novel, but I'm finding it hard to concentrate. :-/ So I'll just write something then, because I'm already half-way through the next book and I have to remember to blog, or I can't keep track of what I read...
This is a novel from -74, and full of drug references, hippiesque characters, racial tension and loss of empire. Interesting to note is that the censorship must have lightened up, since Marsh can state openly that someone is a homosexual. I'm confused as to her attitude against homosexuals - the character in BAHP is evil and ridiculous, the steward in SITS was camp and sort of pathetic, in previous books I've noted that they are often theatrical and OTT... being, as she was, involved in the theatrical world (a recurring theme) she must have met many gay men. It seems as though she accepts their existence quite matter-of-factly, but they are still Not Normal. Like I said, it would be interesting to read a study on gay characters in her novels.
Storyline - Alleyn's old school chum is now President of his home country, Ng'ombwana. Yes, yes, Marsh commits the terrible sin of making up a country for the story. *sigh* She pulls it off quite well and has obviously done some research, but nevertheless... Me no likee. Anyway, he's coming to London, and his Ambassador and the Secret Service are all a-fluster over security, as the President has many enemies, tends not to respect security advice and has already survived two murder attempts.
The novel centres around racism, I'd say. Troy and Alleyn are "black-friendly". Remember, Troy made a black friend in Clutch of Constables (q.v., I'd link to it if I understood how to do so...). Nevertheless, they don't seem to be outraged at the blatant racism they encounter from other people. Stiff upper lip and all that, the black people simply have to accept that they are disliked by some. At one point in the novel a man says that he knows his assailant was black, even though it was pitch dark, because of the smell. Alleyn replies, or rebukes him, saying that apparently black people feel the same about us white people. However, Alleyn cheerily refers to black people as "woolly-headed" for example, and wonders how much resentment his old chum still nurses in his "sooty bosom". And Marsh writes that "nobody can look as bored as a Negro" - although the other n-word is banned and only used by blatant racists.
I guess times have changed... This is another area for academic study, probably.
Favourite witticism: Alleyn's and Fox' way of referring to the secret society that use a pottery fish as their symbol - they are the "Ku-Klux-Fish".