Bulldog Drummond was a hardboiled detective who paved the way for a range of private eye and spy characters. The character is credited as being the inspiration for James Bond.
H.C. McNeile, who published under the name Sapper, the author behind Bulldog Drummond, was a serving army officer who as such was not supposed to publish fiction. He did so under a pseudonym to avoid detection and created one of the most celebrated detectives of his lifetime.
His protagonist Bulldog Drummond is a talented but reckless former solider who seeks adventure by initially placing an advert in the paper. The response he replies to leads him on a thrilling chase after a dastardly villain. He is always accompanied by a band of merry-men who are of the same breed: former soldiers seeking adventure and glory. Together they solve a range of kidnappings, murders and thefts. Due to their popularity, more stories were written by other authors after McNeile’s death in 1937.
The series resonated with readers partially due to its thrilling nature. Readers were able to escape their mundane lives in favour of this exaggerated world in which Bulldog Drummond, the epitome of what McNeile and the media in general at the time saw as good manhood, always comes out on top. He always wins through his bravery, friendship, honesty and honour. He exhibits all the traits that people at the time wanted, whilst the villains were always untruthful, devious and often represented large wealthy organisations which were shown to be corrupt. By making his stories incredibly binary the author was able to create a them vs us scenario in each tale which resonated with the reading public at the time.
McNeile’s books were immensely popular during his day, and have been portrayed on film by a vast number of actors, but in recent years their popularity has cooled. In part this is because of the author’s occasional anti-Semitic and racist messages, and in another part because the detective market has since moved away from a focus on hardboiled detectives. It is my belief that a revival is definitely needed. The messages mentioned previously should definitely be taken as relics of their time so that modern readers can appreciate the unique nature of these incredible books. Five of my favourites are listed below, enjoy!
5. The Final Count: Featuring the demise of Drummond’s villainous nemesis, The Final Count is as thrilling as they come. With the inventor of a powerful chemical weapon missing, Drummond sets out to find him and ensure that his technology doesn’t get into the wrong hands. This is a really great thrilling adventure that makes for a great introduction to Drummond.
4. The Return of Bulldog Drummond: The seventh book in the series combines a country house mystery with McNeile’s standard conspiracy thriller as Drummond, staying at Merridale Hall, receives a number of unusual visitors, each with their own story to tell. Drummond has to figure out who’s telling him the truth and just what is going on in order to put a stop to a horrendous miscarriage of justice.
3. The Female of the Species: Set directly after the demise of Drummond’s arch enemy, this novel follows the exploits of his mysterious lover and partner in crime, who swears revenge on Drummond and his gang. She abducts Drummond’s wife and leads him on a hunt across England to the scene of the final battle, a deserted manor house full of traps and dangers that only the intrepid Bulldog Drummond and his men can navigate.
2. Challenge: Bulldog Drummond and his friend Ronald Standish are summoned to learn of the death of a colleague who was on the way to undertake a secret mission when he mysteriously died. There is no sign of any wound or injury, yet the fit and healthy man died in his cabin on board a boat which also contained a renowned millionaire who was on an uncomfortable and needless journey. As the pair delves deeper they discover a variety of hidden secrets that shed light on the demise of their friend.
1. Bulldog Drummond: The best book is, as I very often say, the ideal place to start in any series, and this is definitely the case here. Bulldog Drummond is a gripping tale of action and adventure that leaves the reader under no illusion as to why these books earned themselves many long series of films between the 1920s and the 1960s.