By the time Sapper — pen name for Herman Cyril McNeile — published the third of his “Bulldog Drummond” novels in 1924, an action-adventure franchise was already firmly under way. As described in his debut story in 1920, Capt. Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, D.S.O., M.C., is a World War I vet hungering to enjoy the lusty sporting life of a wealthy English gentleman.
In short order, Drummond and his equally adventuresome band are taking on extraordinary criminals and conspiracies. The character was so popular that the first book was quickly and successfully adapted for the stage while its author became the highest paid short story writer of the 1920s.
Bulldog first came to the silent movie screen in 1923, and various incarnations and series were produced until the late 1960s. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much was based on Bulldog Drummond stories. Richard Johnson gave Bulldog a very Bondian take in Deadlier Then the Male (1966) and Some Girls Do (1968). Along the way, Bulldog starred in his own radio show and was the lead avenger in books written by various authors well after Sapper died in 1937.
In the Case of The Third Round (book, 1924; film, 1925), Drummond isn’t the only recurring character. The arch-nemesis of the first four novels is master of disguise Carl Peterson, who repeatedly tries to pull the puppet strings of criminal escapades that typically threaten the fate of England.
Clearly based on literary predecessors such as Moriarty and Fu Manchu, this time Peterson is after a formula created by Professor Goodman that can make flawless diamonds. Members of the Metropolitan Diamond Syndicate, fearful of this threat to their profits, hire Peterson to silence Goodman — only to have their assassin turn out to have plans of his own. And these plans include silencing his old foe, Bulldog Drummond, in a watery grave, after getting in some psychotic revenge.
As with all such romps, the story is a series of contrived and fast-paced twists and turns designed to surprise and tantalize readers. Perhaps the biggest surprise is how little many of these books have become dated. Perhaps that’s because the formula created by the “Clubland” writers like John Buchan, Dornford Yates, and Sapper would shape so much of the James Bond oeuvre to the point that many of the elements of Drummond stories are still essential in contemporary adventure tales, as in the books of Clive Cussler and Jack Higgins.
Only the technology and geopolitical backdrops have significantly changed. Well, no gentleman of Drummond’s breeding would engage in extramarital sex.
Few contemporary heroes and their villains can banter with equal repartee. Hence, these books were once ideal for British schoolboys. The most astute of them must have picked up what was more than obvious then and now: no one should take a single page of these tales seriously.
For this new Naxos AudioBooks edition, narrator Roy McMillan continues the leisurely, tongue-in-cheek style he gave to his readings of the first two Sapper books, Bulldog Drummond (1920) and The Black Gang (1922). These are the sort of novels perfect for terminal or on-the-road listening as they’re light fare, simple and fun. Most readers will be amazed that a character and his milieu, now almost a century old, are as entertaining now as they were when Ian Fleming was a teenager.