Morris Langlo West (1916-1999) was a highly-regarded literary figure in 20th century Australia with a lifetime of awards and honors for his work as an author and playwright. Early in his writing career, he wrote adventure novels for guys like us, including 1957’s The Concubine, also released as McCreary Moves In. The novel is still in print in various formats under both titles, and it even once had a classic Dell paperback printing under the pseudonym of Michael East.
Irishman Mike McCreary is an unemployed oil driller in Jakarta, Indonesia. While reviving from an illness, McCreary is visited by a mysterious man named Rubensohn who seeks to hire McCreary for a speculative oil drilling job on a distant island that is technically part of Indonesia but ruled by a sultan. McCreary boards Rubensohn’s luxury ship and we meet the international cast of characters along for the journey after an early-novel murder puts our hero in a rough spot.
The shipmates include a gorgeous Asian female named Lisette, who serves as arm candy for the wealthy boss. Rubensohn describes her as a “decorative woman,” a term I promise to start using whenever I can shoehorn it into conversations. Anyway, as soon as McCreary and Lisette lock eyes, you just know there’s going to be trouble.
The plot veers from maritime intrigue to exotic island intrigue as the real agenda of Rubensohn becomes clear to MacCreary. There’s the sultan who must be charmed into allowing drilling on the island and an exit-buyer who will take ownership of the site if MacCreary strikes oil. And then there’s the real spoils: the girl. Always the girl.
I mostly enjoyed The Concubine, but I’m partial to fraud stories. I must admit it was really slow and rather romantic at times. The ending was also so abrupt that I was worried my old paperback had shed some pages. It’s definitely not an action novel, but West was a really good writer. Consider this a lukewarm recommendation.
In 1957, the British television network ITV adapted the novel for the screen in seven 30-minute episodes. The show was called McCreary Moves In and starred Alan White in the lead role. I looked around and was unable to find the mini-series anywhere online.
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