I started Bulldog Drummond keenly, anticipating a good, old-fashioned adventure with lashings of `derring do’. I’m a big fan of the genre, with John Buchan‘s The Thirty-Nine Steps and G.K. Chesterton‘s The Man Who Was Thursday among my favourites. As a further enticement, P.G. Wodehouse borrowed from the plot in one of my favourite novels, Leave it to Psmith.
When a reader embarks on a novel with as much good-will as I did, one is prepared to overlook minor issues of style, plot and characterisation. In the first chapter, I made `allowances’ for the patronising, simpleton dialogue given to Mr and Mrs Denny, Drummond’s servants. They at least fare better than the Germans in the novel, who are credited with little more than grunting speech and greedy expressions.
Understanding that Sapper wrote Bulldog Drummond shortly after the First World War provides some context for its anti-German sentiments (although many allied soldiers could empathise with their fellow foot soldiers in the opposite trenches). But my willingness to make allowances was seriously disturbed by a flashback to Dummond’s nocturnal adventures into no-man’s land, where he indulges a psychopathic enjoyment of killing. He continues to indulge his murderous urges throughout the peace-time events of the story. Most of the killings in the novel are unnecessary, and unnecessarily brutal.
The story has some exciting moments, but the plot is thin, and its purpose too obvious to be enjoyed. I’m curious about the film adaptations though. It might work better on the big screen, where an hour or two spent enjoying an implausible adventure is easier to justify. However I don’t think I’ll spend any more reading time with Sapper’s psychopath hero. Not when there is more Buchan and Chesterton to be had.