After a clammy white mist makes visibility impossible, flying ace James Bigglesworth and his pal Algy are forced to land their Vandal amphibian somewhere in Norfolk. The apparently desolate landscape prompts the pair to do a spot of exploring with a view to finding somewhere to eat. However, on discovering a cache of military equipment they think they’ve stumbled upon a smuggling ring, but soon learn it’s something far more dangerous.
I read loads of Biggles books when I was a kid, but for some reason don’t remember any of them. With a view to recapturing my forgotten youth, I thought I’d give the old flying ace another look. Given that WE Johns was himself a flyer in World War One, it’s no surprise that the dialogue reflects many of those classic war movies where everyone talks as if they were educated at Eton. Exclamations of ‘by Jove’, ‘strewth’, and ‘dashed if I know’, pepper the conversations. Even the villains hold back on their language – when one of them is accused of being drunk, he retorts: ‘Kindly refrain from being unpleasant’.
This book introduces another character who also appears in many of the later books. ‘Ginger’ is a teenager on his way to London to become a pilot. He teams up with Biggles and ends up shooting one of the villains, which, like some of the team’s other exploits does seems bit farfetched. However, it’s all good fun in a very English ‘righto-chaps’ sort of way.
Originally published in 1935, ‘Biggles and the Black Peril’ is the eighth volume in an incredibly long series. As well as the Biggles adventures, Johns wrote several non-fiction books about flying and also penned the ‘Worrals’ series about a courageous flight officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Written at the request of the Air Ministry, the books were intended to inspire young women to join the WAAF. Johns continued writing until his death in 1968.
Although this isn’t what I’d call a cracking good yarn, it’s nevertheless a very readable and entertaining story. It also gives an insight into how people viewed Europe at the time and Britain’s friendship (or otherwise) in regard to Germany and the threat of war.
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