This is a quirky unorthodox sort of a book, more a collection of anecdotes that fit together to tell the overall story. The "story within a story" format seems like it is set up to allow for multiple books in the series but, apart from a couple of unlikely coincidences that don't actually add much to the storyline overall, it doesn't quite work. Perhaps someone told Biggins the book wouldn't sell unless there was more of a British connection?
That apart, this is a good book. Sure, it has its fair share of camels in submarines, Greek policemen and shipwrecked Japanese sailors who don't want to go home and other events that are played for their comic relief but at the heart of the book is the story of the fledging U-Boat service of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War One. It tells that story well and it doesn't pull any punches. You may recall that WW1 was not a huge success for Austria, to put it mildly. That story is told here and as the war drags on and things get worse for Austria, so too things get worse for Prohaska and his crew. The tone of the novel, which starts off so light-hearted with moments of pure comedic genius, slowly becomes more serious. People die, other people suffer and the last few chapters as a now demobbed Prohaska and his crew try to make their way through a crowded Central Europe back to Vienna are quite dark although, even here, Biggins finds the absurd to point out to us.
I became quite a fan of Prohaska again; I'll be searching out the other couple of books in this series that I don't already own so expect some more reviews over the next few months.