Monday, November 8, 2010

{review} gimlet lends a hand

W. E. Johns Gimlet Lends a Hand (1949).

Image source (I read the same edition)
£10,000 is offered for the services of a man accustomed to living dangerously. Must be physically fit, prepared to go anywhere, possess a high degree of initiative and able to furnish highest references concerning moral character. Familiarity with lethal weapons and ability to speak colloquial French are essential qualifications. Apply in first instance to Box 4791.
I re-read Gimlet Lends a Hand for the umpteenth time earlier this year when I was planning a trip to the South of France. My reading program for this visit was somewhat eccentric, I suppose: W. E. Johns Biggles 'Fails to Return' (1943; set around Nice/Monaco); Ernest Hemingway Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (1926; I didn't get as far as Biarritz); and, for my more northerly plans, Mabel Esther Allan It Happened in Arles (1964); Fred Vargas Seeking Whom He May Devour (2004). I ran out of time before I could reacquaint myself with Worrals' adventure in the Cévennes (W. E. Johns Worrals on the Warpath, 1943; I did see a bit of the Camargue tho'). Anyway, that sort of thing. As you can see, the modern world doesn't hold that many attractions for me, though I appreciate a good en-suite bathroom.

This book can barely be termed a 'Gimlet' one, since Captain Lorrington 'Gimlet' King doesn't appear until near the end. Instead this is about Nigel 'Cub' Peters, Gimlet's young protégé, and his Second World War commando comrades-in-arms, the French-Canadian 'Trapper' and the Cockney 'Copper'. Then again, it is really Cub who is the hero of the entire series although it is his Skipper Gimlet's strong moral presence and sense of daring which inspires so many of his actions.

To business: Cub takes a job to find a kidnapped child who is being held in a mountain village somewhere in the South of France. The scenery is spectacular – Roman aqueducts, dodgy cafés in Nice, ruined medieval chateaux – and the cast of characters are suitably exotic – American gangsters, gypsies with hearts of gold, and a dubious effete poet (the effete, with the exception of Gimlet himself, are always villainous). Of course, Cub will triumph, though not before Gimlet has to 'lend a hand' to save the day.

The series which followed the spectacular WW2 books (particularly Gimlet, King of the Commandos, 1943) are always well-written and have gripping and imaginative narratives. W. E. Johns, it is quite clear, was never daunted by the end of hostilities cutting off his subject matter and all his three major heroes (Biggles, Gimlet, Worrals) managed very interesting after-lives. I particular enjoyed the ingenuity of Gimlet Mops Up (1947) where a group of vengeance-fuelled Nazis do a sort of reverse Nuremberg and establish their own war crimes tribunal – everyone's guilty – and execute their 'guilty' victims in various dirty underhand ways (and in fancy dress). They try to bump Gimlet off while he's judging the local flower show. That some allied atrocities could be perceived in the same light as those of the Axis is, of course, never fully explored.

Don't over-analyse children's books – but bear in mind that they're written by adults with issues… I try to remember, quite successfully, that it was the Biggles' books which fuelled my love of reading as a child and made me the avid reader and nostalgic traveller I am today.

Rating: 7/10.

If you liked this... you'll have to go secondhand as it is well and truly out of print.

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