SAPPER [H. C. McNEILE] – Bulldog Drummond. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1920. George H. Doran, US, hardcover, 1920. Reprinted many times in both hardcover and paperback.

SAPPER Bulldog Drummond

   As you’ve seen noted, I didn’t go into all of the various editions of this, Bulldog Drummond’s first adventure, but for the record, the one I read is a recent and rather hefty softcover edition (Wordsworth, 2007) subtitled “The Carl Peterson Quartet.”

   This latter volume contains the following four novels: Bulldog Drummond, and the only one I’m commenting on now; The Black Gang (1922); The Third Round (1924); and The Final Count (1926). McNeile was a very prolific writer, the author of many, many short stories as well as novels, beginning in 1910 or so, and continuing on up to his death in 1937.

   David Vineyard has a long article about Bulldog Drummond coming up, but I’ve only skimmed through it so far, wishing to form my own impressions first before getting it posted, but do look for it soon.

   The year that Bulldog Drummond was published, 1920, as well as all four Carl Peterson books — through 1926 — is important, because it was only after the first world war could the general public really believe in the existence of super-criminals like Carl Peterson, ruthless men whose single-minded goal was absolute world control — or that the domination of the entire planet by a small group of like-minded men was even remotely feasible.

SAPPER Bulldog Drummond

   “How?” you might ask. Through financial means and countrywide strikes by the duped underclass. That there are four books in the series suggests that like certain other would-be emperors of the world, Carl Peterson is defeated at the end of each, but survives and lives to return another day.

   As for Hugh Drummond himself, a veteran of the war in France, when he returned to England, he was bored and had an huge amount of time on his hands. Craving excitement, he took out an ad, offering his services to anyone in need of help. “Legitimate diversion, if possible,” the notice says, but “crime … no objection.”

   Enter the girl. Phyllis Benton. Her father is in desperate straits, and she requires assistance. Drummond needs no other responders to his advertisement. He has all of the excitement, trouble — and then some — that he needs in dealing with the deadly Carl Peterson and his growing gang of thugs and respectable businessmen, all with an eye to their mutual good fortune.

   Not to mention Peterson’s “daughter,” the equally beautiful and enigmatic Irma, who seems to have an eye for Captain Drummond, not that the latter needs the former to defeat his formidable opponent this round, at least.

SAPPER Bulldog Drummond

   I’ve chosen the word “round” deliberately, because it is a game that is being played between Drummond and Peterson, a deadly one, but one with the sort of unspoken rules that prevents one or the other from sneaking up and bumping the other off with no warning.

   Deadly poisons, giant ape-creatures, vats of acid, all fair play, but shooting the other in the back? It’s hardly done.

   The action back and forth gets a little repetitious and sags a little around the three quarter mark, but it’s only the lull before the finale, which comes fast and furious – and even more deadly for some of the participants.

   Wonderful stuff, very much of its time and place, unfortunately, but Britain had a little less to fear between the wars while Captain Hugh Drummond was on the alert.