Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Review: Biggles Works It Out

Biggles Works It Out by Capt. W E Johns(1951)

The legendary pilot takes on a gang of international gold hijackers in Algeria. 

Revisiting a childhood fictional hero is a problematic thing. Oftentimes what one thought earth-shaking is revealed for the dross that it is and the brilliant character one looked up to proves to be a cardboard collection of tics and catch phrases.  But other times, the experience is much more pleasant, such as picking up a Biggles book for the first time in nearly thirty years. 

Captain W E Johns's aviator hero, James "Biggles" Bigglesworth,  has delighted readers young and old since his introduction on the pages of Popular Flying in 1932.  Despite most of the 200 odd books and stories being out of print, copies are fervently sought by fans and collectors with copies changing hands for as much as $1,000. 

Biggles Works It Out isn't the best of the series.  It belongs to that awkward "air detective" phase that never quite matches the thrills of when Biggles and his mates Algy, Bertie, and Ginger take on the Germans in wartime or fly off to some exotic locale to deal with deviltry.  It also doesn't help that Biggles leaves most of the heavy lifting in this adventure of Algy and Bertie as they deal with recurring villain Von Stahlhein and murder-bent Tuareg tribesmen.  Biggles himself stays behind to co-ordinate the action and only comes in himself in literally the last chapter to sort out the mystery. 

A first time reader will also find the characters a bit thin, but bear in mind that they were written to be met again and again over many books, so their characterisation is cumulative.  You have to read a number of the books to get the full flavour.  And I can't think of a more pleasant way to pass the time.

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