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The Red Sea Sharks is the nineteenth book in the classic series of Tintin adventures by Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé and was first published in 1958. The story begins with Tintin and Captain Haddock bumping - quite literally - into their old friend General Alcazar on a street corner after a trip to the cinema. Alcazar accidently drops his wallet while walking away and Tintin tries to return it to his hotel later but soon discovers - through some detective work - that the General, who was very jumpy and eager to get away, has been supplying arms to the Middle East. We soon learn that Emir Ben Kalish - who Tintin became friends with in Land of Black Gold - has been deposed by rebels in Khemed. The emir has therefore sent his obstreperous son Prince Abdullah away to stay at Marlinspike Hall with Tintin and Haddock and the Captain and Nestor the butler soon have their patience stretched by his constant practical jokes. Tintin decides to travel to Khemed to help the emir and, although as usual initially reluctant, Captain Haddock decides to go with him to get away from the chaos of Marlinspike where Abdullah and an entourage of servants and dignitaries have made themselves at home.
Although packed with incident, action, and humour and featuring many characters from previous books as guest stars, The Red Sea Sharks never quite all comes together into a completely satisfying whole to be one of the very best Tintin books. It begins in wonderful fashion with Tintin and Haddock bumping into a not very chatty Alcazar and finding out that something is not quite right when they try to return his wallet to the hotel he claimed he was staying in. When they go home to Marlinspike they soon discover that Prince Abdullah has to come to stay when the Captain has a bucket of water deposited on his head as he opens the front door. A funny panel has Haddock in the bath the next morning mistaking his shower nozzle for the telephone in Laurel and Hardy style and then trudging grumpily out in his dressing gown to pick up the real phone. 'No, Madam. I am not Mr Cutts the butcher!' Professor Calculus then comes down to breakfast wearing roller skates with predictable comic mayhem and Haddock amusingly drenches Thompson and Thomson with a hose when they knock on the door because he thought it was Abdullah and wanted revenge. 'Please forgive me! You see, it's Abdullah's fault. The young rapscallion kept ringing the bell!'
Oddly enough, the opening section at Marlinspike is so much fun The Red Sea Sharks loses something when Tintin and Haddock set off for Khemed where the real adventure begins. The desert locations/action seems like a slight retread of Land of Black Gold at times although there is some good stuff here like Haddock comically unable to stay awake and riding a horse rather uncomfortably in all manner of positions. Emir Ben Kalish is hiding in a spectacular Roman temple hewn from rock like something out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Red Sea Sharks is very Indiana Jones here as Tintin and Haddock enter the area on horseback. The action eventually switches to the sea where our heroes are stranded on a raft and Captain Haddock falls into the water countless times for comic effect. A luxury yacht is hosting a cruise nearby courtesy of the Marquis di Gorgonzola. The Marquis is of course Rastapopolous - Tintin's old enemy from Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Blue Lotus - and Rastapopolous is up to no good as usual.
Rastapopolous is like Tintin's version of Blofeld and has a bit here that is almost identical to something Blofeld does in Diamonds Are Forever. We know Steven Spielberg was a Tintin fan so maybe someone writing that film was too. The Red Sea Sharks is famously packed with characters from previous books like Dawson, Bab El Ehr, Ben Kalish Ezab, Abdallah, Oliviera da Figueira, Doctor Müller, Bianca Castafiore and Allan - the crooked first mate who works for Rastapopolous and has a long history with Captain Haddock. This is also the story where Tintin and Captain Haddock meet the Estonian pilot Skut for the first time, the character later to return in Flight 714. Allan and Captain Haddock cross wits again at sea in the story and these sections are generally well done. Bianca Castafiore has a small but amusing cameo ('Signora Castafiore! Run for it! What shall we do? Hop back on the raft?') and the irritating insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg also returns briefly.
One of the great things about Tintin books is reading them again and picking up on little things that you didn't notice before. Here, for example, when Captain Haddock takes his jumper off to try and flag down a ship while stuck on the raft, you can, if you look closely enough, see he has it on back to front for several panels afterwards. It's small details and jokes like this that make the books rewarding to return to. The Red Sea Sharks has had allegations of racism thrown at it, principally for the group of African slaves Captain Haddock and Tintin find in the hold of Allan's ship the Ramona, who are depicted as fairly simple folk speaking in a slang. The fact that Hergé intended no offence and is denouncing this trade should have been obvious enough. Captain Haddock is absolutely furious when he finds out - even resorting to a megaphone to berate a slaver he's thrown off the ship. 'You trafficker in human flesh! You deserve to be strung up on the mizzen yardem! Take care that you don't cross my path again!'
The Red Sea Sharks is not at my Tintin top table with the likes of The Seven Crystal Balls, Prisoners of the Sun, The Calculus Affair, Tintin in Tibet and The Castafiore Emerald, but is certainly a lot of fun in its own right with some good moments and enjoyable art.