Of Mountains and Gold
The second Quinton novel, The Mountain of Gold, comes out in hardback in North America on 31 January and in paperback in the UK on 13 March, and in the buildup to both launches I’ll be blogging about some of the background to the book. I’ll also be blogging about the story behind the third book in the series, The Blast That Tears The Skies, which comes out in trade paperback format in the UK on the same day, 13 March.
Two very real aspects of history underpin the plot. The first is the deterioration of relations between Charles II’s British kingdoms and the United Provinces of the Netherlands which would culminate in the outbreak of the second Anglo-Dutch war (1665-7). The conclusion of the first war in 1654 had left many loose ends: the Dutch objected to the English Navigation Act, which banned them from the carrying trade with England’s colonies, and the English were suspicious of Dutch encroachments in America and Africa which seemed to threaten their own expansionist ambitions. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, a new set of imperatives came into play. Many in the court and in Parliament detested the Dutch state’s republican government and its brand of tolerant Calvinism, young Cavaliers were eager for an opportunity to prove themselves in battle, while influential veterans of the Commonwealth’s war against the Dutch, notably George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, were keen to resume what they regarded as the unfinished business of the earlier conflict. The diary of Samuel Pepys, who enters the series as a character in this novel, provides an excellent insight into the attitudes of the time, and the gradual slide into war. In February 1664, for example – during the time period covered by The Mountain of Gold – the merchant Captain Cocke held forth to Pepys in a coffee house: ‘the trade of the world is too little for us two, therefore one must down’.
Set alongside this escalating tension and inexorable drift toward war, in the novel’s plot as in the history of the time, is the legend of ‘the mountain of gold’. Of course, there was nothing new in wild stories of fabulous golden cities and the like, the riches of which would at once solve any nation’s financial problems: witness Sir Walter Raleigh’s search for El Dorado earlier in the century, and the persistence of such myths would later underpin such stories as King Solomon’s Mines. The story goes back to 1648, when part of Parliament’s navy defected to the royalists. In 1651 this force, by now much reduced, was operating on the coast of West Africa, and its commander, Prince Rupert of the Rhine (formerly a dashing cavalry general in the British civil war), heard rumours of the existence of a golden mountain, far up the Gambia river. Rupert proceeded some way upstream with a force that included Robert Holmes, the future admiral, knight and foe of Pepys, who was granted his first command during this expedition and who appears as a major character in The Mountain of Gold. After the Restoration, Rupert persuaded the king to back two expeditions to West Africa. These were both commanded by Holmes and were nominally under the auspices of the newly formed Company of Royal Adventurers, later renamed the Royal African Company, which played a controversial part in the history of slavery. The first expedition, in 1661, was aimed at the Gambia and was explicitly an attempt to find the ‘mountain of gold’; the second, in 1663-4, was a much more ambitious attempt to drive the Dutch from the Guinea coast.
In The Mountain of Gold, Captain Matthew Quinton finds himself thrust into the heart of both the drift to war and the quest for the legendary treasure. While cruising in the Mediterranean he captures a man who appears to be a Barbary corsair captain. In fact this proves to be an Irish renegade, Brian Doyle O’Dwyer, who convinces King Charles II that he – and only he – knows the true location of the fabled golden mountain. Despite his reluctance, scepticism and desire to prevent his brother’s marriage to a suspected murderer, Matthew is given command of an expedition to find the mountain. Combining actual elements of both the Holmes expeditions, the novel sees Matthew and his crew travel up the Gambia river, contending as they do so with the wiles of the enigmatic Irishman, attempts to sabotage their ship, murderous natives and wildlife, and above all the machinations of a mysterious and powerful new enemy.