Biggles Defends the Desert by Capt. W.E. Johns

Those magnificent men…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

World War 2, the Sahara Desert. British planes carrying supplies, dispatches and important officials have been going missing en route over the desert, so Squadron-Leader James Bigglesworth – Biggles to his friends – has been despatched with his squad to an oasis halfway across the desert, partly to protect planes as they pass the danger zone, and partly to get to the root of the mysterious disappearances. Biggles is an ace fighter pilot, having made his name in WW1 and now back fighting the same enemy twenty years later. His old companions are still with him – Ginger and Algy – supplemented by some new faces, all skilled pilots too. They have their trusty Spitfires and endless heroism to carry them through.

I used to love the Biggles books as a child and wondered if the old magic would still be there. I’m happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my revisit to these old friends. Although they’re written in rather more simple language than an adult book would be, and occasionally Capt. Johns takes a detour to give a little life lesson – on how to plan things, or the qualities required of a leader, etc. – the story itself is certainly enough to hold the interest of grown-ups as well as children. The edition I read, from the Random House Children’s Publishing range, has a helpful notes section which explains some of the terms and jargon that the characters use, which have since fallen out of common knowledge.

Biggles and the squad soon discover that the planes are being diverted by a nefarious Nazi plot to mess with their compasses, taking them off their route. The squad responsible for this is led by the German fighter ace, von Zoyton, and his team of Messerschmitt pilots. So Biggles’ first task is to destroy the equipment that is sending out dodgy signals, and then to drive the Germans out of this sector of the desert to make the route safe again. This will involve sneaky plots, thrilling dogfights, desert survival and even camel rides! It all happens at a fast pace with no long dull passages, but there’s plenty of description that gives a real feel, if a little sanitised, of what it would have been like out there, far from the main action of war but performing a vital task.

The men are heroes, and all are brave and good. However they do make mistakes and misjudgements sometimes, even Biggles, which keeps them human. Both Brits and Germans show respect for their counterparts – they may be at war and they may be forced to kill each other, but they recognise that the enemy is simply doing his job, as they are doing theirs. First published in 1942 (under the title Biggles Sweeps the Desert), Capt. Johns already differentiates between German servicemen, for whom he has clear respect and no particular ill-will, and Nazi fanatics, who are the baddies. I think this is why the books still feel quite comfortable to read – there is no sense of racialised anti-German hatred, only anti-Nazi, and we can still all get on board with that, I think. There’s also a sense of them simply doing a necessary job – there’s no unseemly celebration over the deaths of enemy pilots on either side, while enemy prisoners are granted respect and decent treatment, by both sides.

Capt. W.E. Johns

I was pleased that Random House have chosen not to update the text as far as I can see. This means there’s an awful lot of smoking, seen as a Good Thing, which I feared they might have felt inclined to edit out. The British also often refer to the Germans as “the Hun”, now seen as somewhat derogatory, but back then, as Capt. Johns himself points out in a short note presumably added years later, “The word Hun used in this book was the generic term for anything belonging to the German enemy. It was used in a familiar sense, rather than derogatory.” By leaving this kind of thing in, the book keeps an air of authenticity and will give young readers a truer picture of the habits and language current at the time.

So a happy reunion with my old heroes for me, and I’d be quite happy to recommend Biggles for a new generation of readers, young or old – they feel more like a glorification of heroism and decency than of war itself, and they are respectful towards the enemy, showing that they too are heroic and decent men (except the Nazis). Plus, and more importantly, the adventures are still thrilling!

Amazon UK Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

….As it unfolded, the structure of the story began to remind me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable diminishing replicas of themselves inside. Step by step the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors, its identity fragmented into endless reflections. The minutes and hours glided by as in a dream. When the cathedral bells tolled midnight, I barely heard them. Under the warm light cast by the reading lamp, I was plunged into a new world of images and sensations peopled by characters who seemed as real to me as my surroundings. Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched my window and my tired eyes slid over the last page. I lay in the bluish half-light with the book on my chest and listened to the murmur of the sleeping city. My eyes began to close, but I resisted. I did not want to lose the story’s spell or bid farewell to its characters just yet.

~ The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

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….“Do you feel like playing mouse in a little game of cat-and-mouse?”
….Bertie polished his eyeglass industriously. “Absolutely, old top,” he agreed. “I’ll play any part you like, you bet I will, if it means hitting von what’s-his-name a wallop.”
….“That’s fine,” returned Biggles. “This is what you have to do. Go to Karga. Tell Angus what’s in the wind. Get all hands working on the Whitley, making it look as much like a civil machine as possible. Then, at dawn, take off and fly it through. You’ll have to work fast. Come over here at about ten thousand, and then head for the danger zone.”
….“Here, I say, what about some guns?” protested Bertie.
….“You can stick as many guns in as you like, as far as I’m concerned,” granted Biggles. “Angus will provide you with some gunners. But don’t go fooling about. You’re not supposed to fight. Leave that to us. We shall be upstairs, waiting for the Messerschmitts. Angus can send out a radio signal that you’re on your way. If von Zoyton picks it up he’ll soon be after you. Is that clear?”
….“Absolutely, yes, absolutely,” murmured Bertie. “What fun! Here I go. See you in the morning. Cheerio, and so forth.”

~ Biggles Defends the Desert by Capt. W.E. Johns

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….Hannah crossed the room and sat on the bed, then sank back, pulled a pillow towards her and pressed it to her face. What was she doing? Was this crazy?
….Ever since she had stumbled across the Vanity Fair article two weeks ago and found out exactly what was happening at the University of Virginia, she’d been too caught up in the frantic forward momentum of her plan to have time to think. Except, no… that was bullshit. She’d had plenty of time to think, she just hadn’t allowed herself to. And now she was in Charlottesville, at the point of no return. It wasn’t too late. She could still leave, take her bags, head back to Maine. Except… she’d be going back to what? More of the same? No chance for change, for things to really, truly, get better?
….No. No way. She was here for a reason and no way was she going to chicken out before she’d even got started.

~ The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

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….“A child?” said Edwin Digweed. “We are going to have a child?
….“Not as such,” said Edgar Wield.
….“Not as such. As what then? As an entrée at supper fricasseed à la Swift? As a parthenogenetic earnest of Jehovah’s good intentions? As an early entry to some new Dotheboys Hall you are planning to found here in Enscombe to finance your dotage? Or is this infant in fact a Mafia dwarf turned Queen’s evidence for whom you are caring under the witness protection programme?”
….Wield, accustomed to his partner’s blasts of invective fancy, bowed his head meekly before the storm. When it abated, he said, “Pete Pascoe’s lass, Rosie. I promised I’d show her the menagerie.”
….“With a view to joining it perhaps?
….“Eh?”
….“Edgar, since we set up house together, I have put the interests of domestic harmony above my professional calling and pandered to your bibliophobia by making this cottage to all intents and purposes a book-free zone. And what have you brought into our life by way of return? I shall tell you what. First, an aerobatic ape; then, a possibly rabid dog; and now, a female child. What more need I say? I am speechless. I rest my case.”

~ Arms and the Women by Reginald Hill

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 329…

Episode 329

No change in the TBR this week – remaining steady on 173. This is mainly because I’ve had less time for reading since, despite my better judgement, I seem to have been obsessively watching the Depp/Heard trial. My verdict? Well, here’s a visual representation of how I see their relationship…

(The wonderful Andy Capp drawn by cartoonist Reg Smythe)

Here are a few more I should be battling with soon… 

Crime

The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Dervla McTiernan is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to try for years but have never managed to fit in, so I was pleased when this one popped through my letterbox from the good people at HarperCollins. Happily too, it’s a standalone, so I’m not going to be jumping into the middle of an established series!

The Blurb says: For fans of the compulsive psychological suspense of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a mother daughter story—one running from a horrible truth, and the other fighting to reveal it—that twists and turns in shocking ways, from the internationally bestselling author of The Scholar and The Ruin.

First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I’m a young, idealistic law student, that I’m passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

They think I’m working hard to impress them.

They think I’m here to save an innocent man on death row.

They’re wrong. I’m going to bury him.

Fiction

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

One for my sadly neglected Spanish Civil War challenge. There’s every possibility I’ll hate this because of the fantasy elements, but there’s also every possibility I’ll love it if the zillions of glowing reviews can be depended on! We shall see!

The Blurb says: Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

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Adventure

Biggles Defends the Desert by Capt. W.E. Johns

OK, you have no idea the trouble I’ve had trying to fill the annoying Desert box on my Wanderlust Bingo challenge! I have searched and acquired and abandoned and searched, and I’m at the point of despair. So then I remembered Biggles! I loved Biggles so much as a child, and that heroic pilot and his faithful team went everywhere making the world a better, safer place by beating mostly the Germans, but also anyone else who didn’t realise the British way of life is best, the British upper lip is the stiffest, and Britain rules supreme! Oops, sorry – anyway, I was sure he must have fought somebody in at least one desert in his time (and the book will be quick and short) and I wonder if I’ll still love him… I suspect I probably will!

The Blurb says: It’s the Second World War and Biggles is in the desert, defending the vital air-route from the West coast of Africa to the Middle East. Urgent stores, dispatches and important officials and officers are regularly flown over this route, but lately a number of planes have unaccountably failed to arrive at their destinations. They’ve disappeared on route and Biggles is there to find out why – and stop it happening again.

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Rebus on Audio

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin read by James Macpherson

The fact that I am about to listen to the very first Rebus book, a series second only to the Dalziel and Pascoe books in my affections, and all narrated by the wonderful James Macpherson, SHOULD NOT be taken to mean that I intend to listen to the entire series in order! I mean, there are 23 of them and still counting, so it would be silly – extremely silly – to embark on such a task….

The Blurb says: ‘And in Edinburgh of all places. I mean, you never think of that sort of thing happening in Edinburgh, do you…?’ ‘That sort of thing’ is the brutal abduction and murder of two young girls. And now a third is missing, presumably gone to the same sad end. Detective Sergeant John Rebus, smoking and drinking too much, his own young daughter spirited away south by his disenchanted wife, is one of many policemen hunting the killer. And then the messages begin to arrive: knotted string and matchstick crosses – taunting Rebus with pieces of a puzzle only he can solve. 

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?