Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bulldog Drummond (Herman Cyril McNeile aka Sapper, 1920)

"Demobilised officer, finding peace incredibly tedious, would welcome diversion. Legitimate, if possible; but crime, if of a comparatively humorous description, no objection. Excitement essential."

So starts the advertisement that returning WWI war hero Captain Hugo 'Bulldog' Drummond places in the newspapers. He's bored as fuck and seeks some new thrills. It doesn't take long to find one when beautiful young lady answers his ridiculous ad and hires him to investigate sudden radical shift of her father's behavior. Smells like a good old blackmail case and Holmes type of the investigation. 

Well, not really. I forgot to mention the prologue in which some very powerful and sinister people are plotting a conspiracy against the UK and the whole democratic and free (non-communist) world. So to make long story short -

The thing had ceased to be a mere sporting gamble with himself and a few other chosen spirits matched against a gang of criminals; it had become - if his surmise was correct - a national affair. England herself - her very existence - was threatened by one of the vilest plots ever dreamed of in the brain of man.

At this point things go haywire and mystery novel turns into some crazy mix of action romantic espionage thriller. Plot gets more and more bizarre and at times hard to follow especially because story line is so fast paced. There are few sub plots and one concerning kidnapping of a wealthy American business man is integral but another one involving some Duchess' stolen pearls just didn't make much sense to me. Didn't seem to make much sense to our hero either by the way, but he was too busy to clarify it.

It has to be said that characterizations is pretty lame. Everybody are neatly divided into black/white, good/bad guys world and author concentrates mostly on Hugo and his newly found love. This romantic crap is novel's biggest minus but I guess it was mandatory in those old pulps. But still it was a bit difficult to digest that our dear protagonists had fallen madly in love and had agreed to marry just a few days after they have met.

The winner here is definitely a language. The whole thing is written in this crazy arcane language which sometimes leaves you totally puzzled and other times you simply cannot help but to laugh your ass off. Tough dialogs full of wise cracking are delightful too but cherry on the cake for me were hilarious descriptions of chapters! They are all super cool, my favorite would have to be the tenth one "In Which the Hun Nation Decreases by One"

Cool and unusual stuff that has allegedly inspired lots of other crime writers (Fleming's Bond was supposed to be Mike Hammer from the waist down and Bulldog Drummond from the waist up). But I don't think it has aged very well. Still very entertaining to read and to get lost in a time machine for a few days but not so much that I would be tempted to continue with the rest of the series.



Captain Hugo 'Bulldog' Drummond, D.S.O., M.C. - His best friend would not have called him good-looking, but he was the fortunate possessor of that cheerful type of ugliness which inspires immediate confidence in its owner.... A sportsman and a gentleman. And the combination of the two is an unbeatable production. ... The type of men who whom one should kill outright - or leave alone.

He runs the whole operation from his home on Half Moon Street in London but great part of the novel takes place in some kind of an ex observatory (built by a gentleman of doubtful sanity) called Elms in Godalming.

Body count: 5 + one gorilla

Hugo's fiancee Phyllis Benton and Irma who is the best character but at the same time also the most neglected one. True femme fatale!

Yes, two of them. First he and his pals get poisoned by "an ingenious invention of gas" and later he's simply kicked on the head.

Not very imaginative but we can forgive Sapper for that since it is introductory novel to the whole series. But it does have funny reference to the Sappers - "Dreadful barbarians trying to blow up things" 

Nice illustration. But it gives the book darker tone that it actually contains.

Cool lines:  
"On approaching the gate of The Elms, you will render the night hideous with your vocal efforts."

He manifested every symptom usually displayed by the male of the species when awaiting the arrival of the opposite sex. ... "When is this bally train likely to arrive?" He accosted a phlegmatic official, who regarded him coldly, and doubted the likelihood of its being more than a quarter of an hour early.

"I know not what this young man has done: I care less. In Russia such trifles matter not. He has the appearance of a bourgeois, therefore he must die."[The Coolest!]

A Gentleman of slightly inebriated aspect, whose trousers left much to the imagination.[The Coolest!]

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