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Sapper - 'Bulldog Drummond'
Paperback: 253 pages (Nov. 2008) Publisher: Atlantic Books (Crime Classics) ISBN: 1843548518

Captain Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond is a bit bored because the First World War has ended so he puts an advert in the papers offering to do anything for anyone, as long as it's amusing. What appears to be a simple case of thrashing a blackmailer to within an inch of his life becomes complicated when it appears that a sinister arch villain is planning to turn Britain into another Russia.

Captain Drummond doesn't have much back story, except that he seems to have spent the entirety of the Great War either creeping around No Man's Land at night stalking the Boche or instilling loyalty in every right-thinking Son of Empire. His assistants are pretty much interchangeable and are all pretty much gun-toting Bertie Woosters who spend most of the book being amazed at Drummond's latest escapade.

The villains suffer a little from first novel over-egging: in addition to a number of goons of various nationalities the arch-villains Peterson and Lakington have a gorilla, an acid bath, a device that kills anyone setting foot on the fifth step of the main staircase, a multitude of ropes, thumbscrews and whips, and, obviously, a pygmy with a blowpipe. Sapper might have thought that was a bit much, because the pygmy only appears once. On second thoughts, Drummond's opponents could be villains from a Bond movie, only without the exotic scenery.

The story is a little disjointed, more a series of short set-pieces than a coherent novel, and the writing is at best functional. There's a little too much telling and not enough showing especially in relation to the wit and wisdom of Captain Drummond.

This isn't a bad book, but calling it a classic is pushing it a little unless you define 'classic' only as 'out of print for some time'. The edition could be improved by having a foreword explain why it's a classic - its supposed position in the development of the Clubland Hero subgenre, probably - and a front cover that doesn't belong on a Dashiel Hammett book.

Rik Shepherd, England
August 2009

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 9/08/2009 11:17