Thursday, September 15, 2011

Morocco and Salé feature in Pirate King

The View from Fez is always happy to receive guest posts. Today our guest is the author Laurie R. King.  Laurie is the bestselling author of 21 crime novels, including a historical series featuring young Mary Russell and her somewhat more famous husband, Sherlock Holmes. King’s new novel Pirate King is set in 1924 London, Lisbon, and Morocco. Laurie explains what attracted her to our part of the world.

The USA edition (left) and the UK edition

Pirate King - A synopsis

In England’s young silent-film industry, the megalomaniacal Randolph Fflytte is king. Nevertheless, at the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate the criminal activities that surround Fflytte’s popular movie studio.

Russell is traveling undercover to Portugal, along with the film crew that is gearing up to shoot a cinematic extravaganza, Pirate King. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, the project will either set the standard for movie-making for a generation or sink a boatload of careers.

Nothing seems amiss until the enormous company starts rehearsals in Lisbon, where the thirteen blonde-haired, blue-eyed actresses Mary is bemusedly chaperoning meet the swarm of real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity.

But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, Russell feels a building storm of trouble: a derelict boat, a film crew with secrets, ominous currents between the pirates, decks awash with budding romance—and now the pirates are ignoring Fflytte and answering only to their dangerous outlaw leader, La Rocha. Plus, there’s a spy on board. Where can Sherlock Holmes be? As movie make-believe becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout.

Why Morocco?

Sometimes a place chooses you. Sometimes you’re just wandering, simply headed somewhere, maybe even out for a holiday, and you walk past a place and it reaches out and grabs you. People travel for different reasons. We humans are curious creatures, and we wonder about others—how they live, act, eat, sound. Of course, curiosity about others is often an extension of curiosity about ourselves: What would I look like in a different setting? How would I act away from home? How would my thinking change if I ate different food, slept under different roofs, wore different clothing? And if you’re a writer, you may be looking for a place where your mind can spend a year or so while writing the next book.

Salé - where the dead have front row seats
I came to Morocco as much on a whim as anything else: I was staying with family members in Lisbon when we decided to take a short trip somewhere else, and chose Morocco. The book I was working on was about pirates, and although it’s a comic sort of a romp, there was an appeal in setting part of it in the old pirate kingdom of Bou Reg Reg, in Salé. So we flew into Casablanca and took the train to Rabat, and poked around the area for a day or so, finding enough local colour to make things fun and making a close enough survey of the area for a work of historical fiction.

Then we went to Fez. And my plans for the next year or so were instantly hijacked.

Our introduction to the city was appropriately confusing, yet firmly grounded in its own unique brand of logic. When we arrived, the man we were to stay with was elsewhere, and the arrangements he had made to have us met seemed to have wandered away. However, when we showed his card to a bunch of fellows washing cars near Bab Guissa, they instantly knew him. Or, claimed that they knew him. And with no further ado, one of them proceeded to bundle our possessions onto a cart and race away into the medina.

Now, in many other parts of the world, this would be cause for some degree of alarm. In some parts of the world, one would be insane to follow, lest one’s person disappear along with the luggage. And no doubt luggage theft is not a crime that is completely unknown in Fez. But in this case, it was indeed the logic of the medina, taking us to safe haven.

And so it went, for the days we were there. The tangle of streets seemed to make sense to our feet, if not our eyes, so that we were never definitively lost. We were greeted with good cheer even by those with whom we had nothing apparent in common. The city went about its business, and taught us more about the country and its people than any museum could.

At the end, it became a battle to keep Fez from taking over my pirate book. My characters longed to set off inland from Salé. I had to lock them behind city walls to keep them from wandering off, taking the plot with them. Finally, I made a bargain with them: if you stay in Salé and Rabat for Pirate King, you can head for Fez as soon as it’s finished. Reluctantly, they agreed.

I’d had no intention of writing a book set entirely in Morocco, but next year’s novel, Garment of Shadows, is all about Fez, and the Rif revolt, and the French Protectorate under Lyautey. However, even after that, it’s going to be tough to get the characters to move on.

Thanks to Laurie for this post.

And, now a little known fact -The character Robinson Crusoe in Daniel Defoe's novel escaped from the pirates and sailed off to liberty from the mouth of the Bou Regreg river in Salé!

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