Aarons, Edward S: Assignment - the Cairo Dancers
Title: Assignment Cairo Dancers
Author: Edward S. Aarons
Publisher: Fawcett Gold Medal
Synopsis: The more things change the more they stay the same. The Cairo Dancers are the 60s equivalent of today's ISIS/ISIL with the villain posing as the second prophet and scheming to establish the Caliphate. This of course can only be done by killing people – this time by using a “death ray” constructed by scientists that have been kidnapped from various countries. In the best tradition of spy novels, only one man can save the world and that is Cajun - Sam Durell. Durell tracks the missing scientists to Djebel Kif in the bleak and hostile northern Sinai where he successfully turns the death ray against the Dancers and destroys their headquarters and their dream.
Professor Anton Novotnik wanted to escape the stifling atmosphere of Soviet Czechoslovakia and the Communist fanaticism of his fat wife. A friendly “American” promised a midnight boat ride across the Danube to Austria – in exchange for some documents. The last thing the Professor saw was the Danube waterfront, with the gloomy piles of Bratislava’s river industries looming weirdly in the night mist. And he, too, vanished.
Dr. Hubertus Steigmann, who escaped from the Nazis, disappeared from a secret installation in the Unites States after a letter from his daughter Lisl, whom he had never seen, wrote guardedly to him. While attending a conference in Edinburgh, he secretly flew to Munich, where he was denounced by Lisl as a war criminal, was captured by the German police and escaped from jail a day later. No one knew where he disappeared to.
General McFee calls in Sam Durell to find out where Dr. Steigmann and the other scientists have disappeared. In Munich Sam meets the slightly mysterious Inspector Franz Bellau of the Federal Intelligence Service who is both a compatriot and an opponent. Durell finds Lisl Steigmann who disappeared at the same time as her father and runs into an old compatriot, Major Simon Asche. An organization called the Cairo Dancers, led by former Egyptian Colonel Selim El-Raschid, now the Second Prophet come to earth to establish a new Caliphate, is responsible for kidnapping the scientists.
From there it’s a familiar story. El-Raschid intends to conquer the world, and make himself a very rich man, using a death ray built by the kidnapped scientists. The only clue to the headquarters of the Cairo Dancers is a pavilion for them at Oktoberfest. Durrel’s only chance is to be the fly walking into the Dancers’ web and hope they consider him more valuable alive than dead.
Behind the scenery of the Dancers’ pavilion he runs into, literally and figuratively, the luscious Mademoiselle Zuzu and, the for first of many times, gets knocked out. When he wakes up he is a captive, together with Dr. Steigmann, and gets his wish to meet El-Raschid. Second Prophet foolishness or not, El-Raschid is impressive. He is a huge man, dressed in the costume of the ancient Caliphate. Everything about El-Raschid was exaggerated: …the hawk’s face, the intelligent, almond eyes, the brown smooth skin, the powerful body that towered in egomaniacal strength.
Durell has found his way into the Dancers’ organization but he is still far from rescuing Dr. Steigmann. An ordeal in the desert with a remorseful Lisl and a vicious hashish-hopped up Dancer, escape into Cairo with the help of Major Asche and his Bedouin colleagues and on into Israel via Athens lead Sam, Simon and his Bedouins to the Dancers in the Egyptian Sinai. The Dancers’ headquarters are at Djebel Kif …a black pillar of basaltic stone that soared above the tumbled crags around them. On the summit, like a medieval citadel, stood the ruins of the old Byzantine monastery, with foundations sheer against the cliffside.
For the second time Durell plays fly to El-Raschid’s spider and walks up the goat track and into Djebel Kif. At last he stood before the arched crumbling ruin, where darkness blacker than any night waited to swallow him. And a voice said: “Welcome Mr. Durell. Welcome indeed.” He finds not only El-Raschid but also the sinister dwarf Belau and Dr. Steigmann. Torture and “persuasion” had created a small empire here, headed by a madman and his dwarf accomplice. The eagle and the toad, in league with each other, to gobble up an unsuspecting world. Sam manages to turn the so-called death ray against El-Raschid and the Dancers and, with the help of Mademoiselle Zuzu, who has experienced some of El-Raschid’s famous persuasion, manages to blow up Djebel Kif and to escape with Dr. Steigmann. In the best traditions of secret-spydom (except for the Quiller series), Sam almost gets killed but, with the help of a beautiful woman (Alida – the former Mme. Zuzu) recovers and has some well-earned R&R. “Have you sent all your reports to Washington?” “Yes,” he said. “Then you have nothing to do for a time but get well?” “That’s about it.”
The book is interesting in itself but even more interesting in today’s context. The second coming of the Prophet Mohammed, or someone like him, is a repetitive theme, employed among others in the Fu Manchu series, but also appears today as ISIS/ISIL.