10 December 2009


For my contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books this week, I am re-visiting a book I only read last year.

RAFFLES made his appearance in 1899:
A collection of 8 short stories which feature A.J. Raffles, gentleman, cricketer, and amateur cracksman, and his old school mate Bunny Manders, a bunny in most senses of the word. In the first story The Ides of March Raffles prevents Bunny who is constantly in debt, like Raffles, having no honest source of income, from committing suicide.
The eight stories are narrated by Bunny, with the plots complicated by the fact that Raffles doesn't always keep him totally informed. At times Raffles uses Bunny as a decoy, and at times Bunny initiates action on his own because he thinks Raffles has failed. Of course Raffles never fails, and in the long run it is Bunny who pays most dearly.

The stories depict Raffles as a master burglar, a gentleman, a sportsman who extends the code of cricket, of "playing fair", to thievery. He is much sought after because he is such a splendid cricketer, both at the bat and as a bowler, and various invitations give him the opportunity to relieve others of their riches. As with Conan Doyle's Holmes and Moriarty, Raffles has his principal opponent in Scotland Yard's Inspector Mackenzie. The Penguin blurb credits Ernest Hornung with creating " a unique form of crime story, where, in stealing, as in sport, it is playing the game that counts, and there is always honour among thieves".

So here we have the forerunner of a style of book that we thought was modern - where the villain is the central character. Although, unlike Jeff Lindsay's Dexter Morgan in DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER, or Simon Kernick's Dennis Milne, Raffles never kills.

I think the text of the stories is a bit dated, the language a bit more formal than we use now, and certainly I noticed the odd word that is no longer part of our regular vocab. But in the late 19th century, these stories must have been a breath of fresh air. Hornung was Conan Doyle's brother in law, and whereas in Holmes vs Moriarty you have good vs evil, in Raffles you really have evil vs. good. Interestingly they both, Homes and Raffles, have rather lame sidekicks in Watson and Bunny.

If you'd like to read more (and some of what I already have here) visit this post from last year.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Was it David Niven who played him in the movie? I think I saw that but have never read the book.

Evan Lewis said...

Been meaning to try a Raffles book for years. Didn't someone write a novel where Raffles meets Holmes?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am so thankful to have your weekly contributions, you can talk about the weather and I'd be happy.


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