A lot of my reviews of detective and derring-do tales get the ‘heroes’ tag. You may notice that this is absent in this case. I’ve read the first four Bulldog Drummond novels (Bulldog Drummond; The Black Gang; The Third Round; The Final Count) and while I liked Bulldog himself a little more after the last book, and author Sapper’s writing improved greatly over the course of the four, I still found them ultimately distasteful.
My problem with these books is its attitude towards people of colour. There’s a nasty vein of anti-Semitism throughout – whenever Jewish people are portrayed, they are usually described in terms of distaste, and they are always working for villain Peterson or the opposite political cause to Drummond. Other small things here and there jar, too. The only character with any sort of physical incapacity (a hunchback) is also a villain. Now, this is the point where someone is sure to accuse me of being PC, and tell me that these were the attitudes of the time. The fact is, I’ve got Anglo-Indian ancestry through one grandparent myself, friends with disabilities, and these things offend me. I’m not being offended on anyone else’s behalf, I personally find them offensive, and they make it hard for me to enjoy the books. They’re of so little significance to the books they could probably be edited out, but I’m not in favour of censorship, so I guess I’ll just have to dislike the books because of this attitude.
Okay, let's put that to one side. If Sapper wasn't well-known for having written these books, I'd suspect them of having different authors because the plotting and narrative style change so much from the first to the fourth. The first three have an unknown, omnipresent narrator - the author's voice. The fourth purports to be told by one of the participants. In Bulldog Drummond there's a wealth of people on Drummond's side, not just his friends but former servicemen too, and in both Bulldog Drummond and The Black Gang there is a significant villain working alongside ultimate ne'er-do-well Carl Peterson. Later on Peterson and his lady friend Irma take a more hands-on approach to their business.
The narrative in the first book seems bitty, chapters ending on moments of extreme peril like a 1910s movie serial, but by the end the storyline feels much smoother, and the tale balances plausibility and silliness very well. Had it not been for the aforementioned anti-Semitism, I'd probably have enjoyed The Final Count.
Would I recommend these books? Certainly not for children, given the attitudes the books display. However, if you're interested in adventure stories and James Bond in particular (Fleming cited them as an influence) they're worth taking a look at, even if you don't enjoy them.
Source of books read: Oxfam bookshop - the editions I got are from the 1950s.