In my ongoing quest to live in the past, turning a blind eye to the harsh truths of the modern world, I’ve been experimenting with reading some of the old classics in the mystery and adventure fields. I’ve long been a fan of John Buchan. I tried E.C. Bentley and Marjorie Allingham, and wasn’t overwhelmed. I thought I’d sample the Bulldog Drummond series, by H. C. (Sapper) McNeile, and I bought this inexpensive Kindle collection.
It’s pretty much what you’d expect. Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond is a big, unhandsome, wealthy Englishman, bored with civilian life after surviving World War I. One day he takes out an ad in the Times, offering to do any job as long as it’s dangerous. He has no objection to breaking the law in a good cause.
One of the numerous replies he receives stands out. A young woman, Phyllis Benton, asks him to investigate the group of men with whom her father has gotten involved. She fears that they’re dangerous, and are getting him into something illegal. Drummond promptly falls in love with the girl, and quickly starts interfering with the criminals (as indeed they prove to be) in various clever and annoying ways. He gradually comes to understand that it is no ordinary crime being planned by this international group, but an act of sabotage on a national scale.
It’s interesting that Drummond falls in love in this, the very first book in the series, and stays with the same girl through all the sequels. In our time that would probably seen as a drawback, limiting the hero’s sexual options. But in 1920, when the book came out, standards were different, and it probably served as a sign that while there would be violence to come, erotic hijinks would not be on the menu.
The book was entertaining in a sort of schoolboy way, but I found it a little naïve. Perhaps my tastes have been corrupted by modern mystery stories, but I like a little more complexity in my heroes. Hugh Drummond talks piffle quite in the same vein as Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, but Sayers does it better, and Lord Peter has a deeper heart.
Still, it was a ripping enough yarn for the sort of thing it is. Mindless entertainment, competently delivered. Nothing particularly objectionable on the moral side.