I suspect that a fair number of wargamey, toy soldierly types are partial to the genre of fiction that goes best under the heading of 'Ripping Yarns'. I'm currently reading Andrew Martin's latest title in his excellent 'Jim Stringer' series of novels about the Yorkshire railway detective. Over nine adventures, Martin has done a clever thing with his hero, Jim Stringer. He's taken him from a disgraced footplate fireman, to railway detective in York, to temporary officer and gentleman during the Great War, and, thence, to ex-officer railway investigator. First in Mesopotamia, shortly after its change of hands from the Ottoman Empire to the British Empire, in Baghdad Railway Club
, then, in the current adventure:
to post-First World War India, among the Anglo-Indian world of the railways (made most famous in fiction by Bhowani Junction
, by John Masters, himself an Anglo-Indian). While reading Stringer's adventures this evening, I came to thinking about my liking for this sort of tale. I'm not entirely sure Night Train
falls squarely into the Ripping Yarn category, but that class of book certainly entertains me. So, off the top of my head, I tried to think of my 'top ten' Ripping Yarns. Starting with:
1. Watkins, In the Blue Light of African Dreams
- oh, glory: French Foreign Legion, ex-Great War Spads, American mercenary, an attempted crossing of the Atlantic....
2. R. L. Stevenson, Kidnapped!
Perfect plotting, a thrilling tale that lives on.
3. Erskine Childers, Riddle of the Sands.
Given an extra twist by the reader's knowledge that Childers himself lived a Ripping Yarn, which ended in front of an Irish government firing squad.
4. John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps
. Tremendous! Who, after reading it, doesn't want to don an old tweed suit and take to the hills of Dumfries and Galloway! And, Buchan, like Childers, a Ripping Yarn sort of fellow himself - British intelligence officer and highly popular Governor of Canada.
5. W.E. Johns, Biggles Goes To War
. Biggles and crew as mercenary pilots in the Balkans - biplanes, a beautiful woman, and straight lefts.
6. Any of the 'Mamur Zapt' series of novels by Michael Pearce. The hot, foetid streets of Cairo, Captain Gareth Owen, Head of the Secret Police, and his compelling, not to be crossed, mistress, Zeinab.
And there, I began to falter - my memory that is. So, good fellows, what else should be on this list?