John Biggins

The Emperor's Coloured Coat

The Emperor's Coloured Coat by John Biggins

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Early in the year 1912 the recently-promoted Lieutenant Ottokar Prohaska finds himself dying of boredom, stuck as a gunnery officer aboard a battleship moored for most of the time in Pola harbour. He answers a War Ministry advertisement to train as a naval air pilot, and after inadvertently wrecking a shooting picnic in Bohemia during his qualifying examination, finds himself appointed naval ADC for aviation to the appalling, boorish, near-insane Austro-Hungarian heir-apparent the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. After breaking a leg in a flying accident the following year he is de-appointed, and on coming out of convalescence is posted to a river gunboat on the Danube in the spring of 1914. Fleeing her vengeful husband after an ill-considered liaison with a Polish operatic singer, he crosses the Danube into Serbian territory where he is mistaken for someone else called Prohaska, and ends up enmeshed in a Serbian terrorist plot to kill the Austro-Hungarian chief of staff: with a small diversionary operation in the town of Sarajevo, designed to draw away the Austrian security services from the main event...

...But the side-show in fact becomes the main event. His warnings of the assassination plot mysteriously disregarded by Austrian officialdom, Prohaska is effectively…er…shanghaied to Shanghai aboard an Austrian liner, where he arrives just in time for the outbreak of World War One and the Japanese siege of the German colony of Tsingtao. From which he escapes aboard a Chinese junk, and makes his way home via the Dutch East Indies and Arabia , pausing on the way only to be instructed in the art of flat-earth marine navigation by an hardline-Calvinist Dutch sea captain, and to escape by a hair’s breadth from being hanged as a spy by the not-very-bright commandant of a Turkish fort in the Arabian desert.


“[A] robust sequel to A Sailor of Austria… Skillfully mixing derring-do with tragedy as well as stringent wit, Biggins offers a vivid catalogue of world history 1909-1918… This is engaging fare-reminiscent of George M. Fraser's Flashman series, but darker.” — Publishers Weekly

Previous editions

First published in 1992 by Secker & Warburg, London. Paperback published by Mandarin, London in 1992. Published in the U.S. by St. Martin's Press, New York in 1993. Published again in 2006 by McBooks Press, Ithaca NY. The most recent edition was published in 2021 by Bonanova Editions, Barcelona, Spain.


Format: Paperback
Print length: 375 pages
ISBN-13: 979-8704587637
Publication date:
Edition: 5th edition
Publisher: Bonanova Editions