Tai-Pan link to bizarre crime

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 August, 2011, 12:00am


A violent, power-hungry, flame-haired Scotsman who dies in a best-selling novel set in 19th century Hong Kong has unwittingly become drawn into one of the most bizarre crimes to happen in Australia.

Dirk Struan, a fictional character in James Clavell's 1966 historical novel Tai-Pan, was the signature reportedly used to sign off a typed ransom note attached to a fake bomb which was forcibly chained to the neck of an 18-year-old Australian girl.

The 10-hour ordeal started last Wednesday afternoon when Madeleine Pulver, a Year 12 pupil who lives with her parents in the wealthy Sydney suburb of Mosman, was home alone and an intruder broke in.

The balaclava-clad man reportedly tied the device to Pulver's neck, along with a list of demands.

It took hours before a bomb squad realised the device was a fake and police have since described the case as 'very unusual'.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was like something out of a Hollywood script.

A team was set up to investigate the incident and police are treating it as a serious extortion attempt.

A spokesman for the police's robbery and serious crime squad said he was not aware of the Hong Kong authorities being involved in the case but did not rule out speaking with them about any possible links. 'It would depend on what our investigations may reveal,' he said.

In Clavell's book, Struan is a 19th century trader who uses violence and extortion in his pursuit to become the 'supreme leader' as he vies with his rival and former shipmate Tyler Brock.

The book is set in the 1840s just after the first opium war and the beginning of Hong Kong's colonialisation by the British.

Although Struan is portrayed as a sinister character, he is also the book's hero who dies with his Chinese mistress in a typhoon.

The epic novel, at almost 700-pages long, has been described as dramatic and filled with conspiracy, sex and murder.

The Australian-born author, who died in 1994 aged 69, spent a year in Hong Kong researching the book which has reportedly sold more than eight million copies worldwide.

The plot of Struan founding a trading company called Noble House is understood to be based on the real-life story of William Jardine who founded Jardine Matheson.

In 1986, a movie based on the book was released to scathing reviews.

It starred Australian actor Bryan Brown. Sean Connery was originally meant to play the lead role.

Before becoming a full-time novelist, Clavell was a well-known screenwriter penning scripts for the 1958 science-fiction film The Fly, The Great Escape and To Sir With Love.