Black Gang, The (Naxos Modern Classics) Reviewed By Dr. Wesley Britton of Bookpleasures.com
Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at hisÂ WEBSITE
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Author: SapperPublisher: Naxos AudioBooks (September 7, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1843793911: ISBN-13: 978-1843793915
In my review of the Naxos
AudioBook version of Bulldog Drummond by Sapper (pen name for
H. C. McNeile), I gave a brief overview of how that 1920 novel
established one of the most enduring characters of the Twentieth
Century. Captain Hugh Drummond not only went on to star in two series
of books by two authorized writers, he was featured in films and on
radio for four decades. Another example of how Drummond became
part of popular culture was demonstrated in the lyrics of The
Coaster’s 1957 hit “Searchin’”:
No matter where she’s a-hidin’, she’s gonna hear me a-comin’
Gonna walk right down that street like Bulldog Drummond!
Before all that, back in 1922 the first literary sequel to Bulldog Drummond was The Black Gang in which we see Drummond leading a merry band of terrorists fighting terrorists. In Sapper’s story, Drummond and his hooded, black-leather wearing vigilantes realize there’s a conspiracy in Britain of Bolsheviks wanting to incite violence in labor unions. Drummond suspects someone is pulling the strings of the revolution with more capitalistic motives. He soon learns his night-time activities have prompted that evil someone to come out of hiding to take on the Black Gang, and the power-broker turns out to be old foe Carl Peterson disguised as the benevolent clergyman, the Reverend Theodosius Longmoor.
For the rest of the book, the story is essentially a cat-and-mouse game between Peterson and Drummond with most of the supporting players quiet bullies for Drummond or snarling henchmen for Peterson. The one exception is Phyllis Drummond, the Captain’s wife who becomes a pawn in the game, a resolute damsel in distress for Drummond to rescue. While this book misses most of the lively repartee we heard in the first adventure, we are still rewarded with the same comic improbabilities like Drummond not recognizing the beautiful Irma Peterson, who he met in the first book, or surviving a bomb blast that destroyed a desk and a wall, but not the floor beneath. Or being so super-human he can throw his wife over an eight foot fence.
In the 90 years since The Black Gang debuted, many reviewers have looked for political sub-texts in the Drummond yarns, some damning him for racism, others decrying the extreme violence, others seeing prophecy in his duels with continental villains that were foreshadowings of Russian and German leaders in World War II and the Cold War. Somehow, all this criticism seems to want to find cerebral meanings in overtly escapist fare largely read by English schoolboys. Certainly, Sapper was a literary link between Sherlock Holmes and the works of Leslie Charteris, Ian Fleming, and more recently, Clive Cussler. Clearly, Sapper’s stories were typical of his times reflecting British Colonial views and an admiration for the “sporting” class of gentlemen adventurers populating novels by many other authors. But to make too much of Sapper’s nonsense completely misses the point.
Perhaps hearing these tales read aloud by Roy McMillanon the new edition from Naxos audiobooks helps illustrate what these books were really all about—the telling of a ripping good yarn that has no pretense of having a plausible scene on any page. Perhaps that’s what makes these books still so enjoyable—they were lively jokes then, they are lively jokes now.
For the record, The Black Gang was adapted into the 1934 film, The Return of Bulldog Drummond, starring Ralph Richardson. In 1952, Gerard Fairlie, Sapper’s literary successor and actual model for Drummond, wrote the final book in the series, The Return of the Black Gang. By then, political subtexts were almost unavoidable as a new era required more depth in its escapism. Now, with the contexts of post-World War I conflicts dim history, perhaps Bulldog Drummond can now be enjoyed for what’s on the page—dash, fool-hearty courage, full-throated patriotism, adventurism for the sake of it, and fast-paced cliff-hangers. Just for the fun of it, we can all walk down the street like Bulldog Drummond—but few of us need fear being poisoned by a chair, dumped in the drink, and then just missing being electrified thanks to a careless fox.
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