Though Sherlock Holmes was by a large margin the most successful fictional creation of Arthur Conan Doyle, he was keen to write of other characters. Popular demand meant the death of Sherlock Holmes in 1893 turned out not to be death after all, but in the Holmes-free years immediately after 1893 Conan Doyle created a new character – the Napoleonic French cavalry officer, Brigadier Etienne Gerard.
Gerard is both lovable and ridiculous. He is hugely full of his own self-importance, despite his apparent modesty at times. A smattering of knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars will help the reader identify the far from modest comparisons Gerard makes between himself and major military figures of the era.
Unlike Holmes, Gerard frequently fails in his tasks which are the sort of escapades typical of classic Boy’s Own adventures (think “swashbuckling”, “heroic” and “dastardly”) – and indeed the female characters are either weak and incidental or cunningly manipulative.
The military setting makes the stories a gentle version of Good Soldier Svejk meets Biggles, though without the latter’s derogatory attitudes towards the non-English. In fact, both praise and mockery is meted out to the English, French and other nationalities. Gerard may be laughable, but he is also brave, well-intentioned and not xenophobic.
Conan Doyle’s plots for Brigadier Gerard have some twists, many of which however revolve around Gerard not being aware of how others are manipulating him – and therefore the twists are not hard for an experienced reader of such stories to spot. Even so, the they make for an enjoyable canter and the character was sufficiently successful at the time for George Bernard Shaw to have deliberately copied and caricatured him in the form of Mendoza in Man and Superman.
Reading these stories is light, enjoyable fun – and so they are a good choice as long as you are not looking for fiction that is of a serious intent.
One tip if you are going to get the works as audio books – the RNIB has produced an audio recording which, although at times noticeably of a lower technical quality that many audio books, is still perfectly enjoyable and is much cheaper than usual audio books.
If you like this, you might also be interested in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.
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Buy The Complete Brigadier Gerard Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle here. This one book contains both volumes of Brigadier Gerard short stories.