The Third Round

By H.C. “Sapper” O’Neille.

When Professor Goodman reveals that he can create flawless diamonds for a fiver a go, Sir Raymond Blan­tyre of the Metropolitan Diamond Syndicate seeks out the Comte de Guy (aka Carl Peterson) to make sure that only the syndicate’s diamonds are forever.

Peterson sees an opportunity to enrich himself, and devises a plan to fake the professor’s death so that the man can share his secret with him. Unfortunately, without his notes, which have fallen into Hugh Drum­mond’s possession, Goodman hasn’t the faintest clue how to get the process to work.

Peterson soon has Drummond and the notes in his clutches, and persuades the professor to show him how it’s all done. Drummond feigns concussion, which in his world is like short-term brain damage, but is spared because Peterson wants him sane and sound before he kills him once and for all.

Drummond and Goodman are transferred to Peterson’s yacht, the Gadfly. The villain is going to throw his captives overboard and blow up the yacht with all hands, but, as luck would have it, Drummond manages to get a message to Toby Sinclair while Bulldog creates panic on the vessel by pretending he thinks Goodman is Peterson in disguise. This enables them to escape, and Peterson destroys the yacht soon afterwards.

Drummond reasons that his arch-enemy has headed back to Switzerland, where he confronts him and manages to force him to destroy the only remains notes which detail the professor’s formula. He then offers Peterson a sporting chance, a fight on a glacier, man-to-man. It seems that it isn’t the villain’s day because Irma appears to have abandoned him utterly.

Off to the glacier they go where the tricky Peterson deceives his nemesis by catching him off guard and scarpering.

Drummond suddenly realises that he’s been had because Irma was only pretending to abandon Peterson when, in fact, she was hinting where they should meet on the French side of the border.

The Third Round is a return to something like the original story. There are some touches of humour such as Drummond mistaking Professor Scheidstrun, who mimics Peterson’s nervous tic, for the man himself in disguise.

Peterson’s escape at the end by distracting Drummond’s attention and thumping him seemed a little weak. Of course, Peterson did have a four-book contract, and probably got most of the fan mail. But Drummond’s vague hope that he might spot Toby Sinclair on his yacht as the Gadfly passed by wasn’t much better.

Mind you, without such coincidences, where would fiction be?

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The Black Gang

By H.C. “Sapper” O’Neille.

A gang of men dressed entirely in black has been going round abducting Communist agitators, and thrashing Jewish human traffickers. All extrajudicial, but perfectly all right because the victims are not the sort of chaps a chap invites to his club, or up to the country for the weekend.

When Count Zadowa chucks a bomb at the Black Gang, destroying a desk, it provokes the arrival of the mysterious leader of the agitators… Yes, yes, it’s Carl Peterson, now disguised as the Reverend Theophilus Longmoor, who had secreted some very rare diamonds in the desk, which have now come into the pos­ses­sion of the Black Gang… What? Yes, that’s Hugh Drummond and his chums.

Drummond soon encounters Longmoor, and quickly penetrates his disguise because of the man’s tic of tapping his knee with his left hand.

Drummond is drugged and an accident is arranged, but he manages to extricate himself more by luck than judgement, and he find his way to Peterson’s lair, which is surrounded by an electrified fence. He rescues Phyllis, and is about to escape himself when Peterson and Count Zadowa turn up, having recaptured her.

Peterson is about to have the pair of them murdered when the lights go out and the rest of the Black Gang come storming in.

Not surprisingly, Peterson and Irma manage to escape (again) while Drummond has a chat with his old schoolmate, Sir Bryan Johnstone of Scotland Yard, who has identified him as the leader of the Black Gang, whose days of fun and frolics are now over.

The Black Gang is somewhat darker and more violent than the first volume in the series, and Drummond and his vigilantes are disquieting, it being acceptable for the toffs to act outside the law, but not anyone else.

O’Neille restates his view that the people behind the Communist agitators were only in it for themselves, but that’s also essentially the people who benefit from Drummond’s activities, who aren’t necessarily making life better for the workers.

This is also a waffly book with little sense of an approaching climax as the writer appears to have been stretching out a fairly thin sort of plot. At one stage, wondering how much more of the book remained, I discovered I was far closer to the end than I’d imagined, with no sense that the big finale was nigh.

Drummond seems to work best where he’s a cartoon character. It would not take much to change The Black Gang into a story of tyrants and their brutal thugs abusing the rule of law and human rights instead of heroic chaps ensuring the stability of the realm.

At least this time, no one’s getting gay with anyone or anything.

Bulldog Drummond

by H.C. “Sapper” McNeille.

I’m so used to the survivors of World War I suffering from shell shock, that it seems implausible that Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond would place an advertisement in the paper looking for some excitement because he finds peacetime rather dull. Perhaps he has survivor guilt, which is why he’s so keen to engage in some death-defying thrill-seeking adventures after the horrors of trench warfare.

A call comes from a damsel in distress, Phyllis Benton, which puts Drummond on a collision course with the sinister Henry Lakington and the even more sinister Carl Peterson, who plans to bring Britain to her knees by cynically fomenting a Communist revolution for his own ends.

Drummond spends the rest of the novel falling into Peterson’s hands and then out of them while laughing insanely (yes, I’m not convinced that Drummond isn’t actually unhinged) in the face of constant danger while giving villainy the lumps it deserves to rescue Phyllis and marry her.

It’s all ripping, boy’s own stuff.

It’s a pity that the dialogue is so dated. As David Stuart Davis observes in the introduction, Drummond and his chums all sound like Bertie Wooster; and what would we do without the word “gay”?

“Let’s get gay with Paris.”
“Let’s get gay with Potts.”
“I watched Peterson, through the skylight last night, getting gay with that ledger.”

I’m not even going to ask what the final one involves.

It’s all good clean ludicrous fun as an idle, rich amateur fights the good fight to save Britain for the cocktail-drinking classes.