The Complete Brigadier Gerard Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
|The Complete Brigadier Gerard Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: Witty, clever, and ultimately moving, this is a sensational collection of short stories which even eclipses Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories in some ways.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: August 2010|
|Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd|
Meet Brigadier Etienne Gerard. An officer in Napoleon's army, he is a boastful womaniser with a significantly higher opinion of his own intelligence than anyone around him – notably Napoleon himself. He's also brave, resourceful, fiercely loyal to his emperor and any woman he finds himself in love with, and above all, utterly, totally heroic.
While Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are by far the most famous creations of Conan Doyle – having read all of the Holmes books, I'd never even heard of this series – Brigadier Gerard can hold his own as being far more likeable as a main character than the great detective ever was. Bypass the boasting and we find a perfect soldier, ready to fight for his country and to take revenge on those who wrong him or who don't follow the rules of war, but kind and courteous even to those he fights against if they don't do anything ungentlemanly.
While Gerard is something of a figure of fun, with his ridiculous self-assuredness, his actions are never less than brave, although they can also be foolhardy, and Conan Doyle also has plenty of good-natured digs at the Englishmen his hero is fighting against much of the time here. The supporting cast, apart from Napoleon, is generally extremely varied, but all of the other soldiers and civilians encountered by the Brigadier are richly drawn and interesting characters.
There's a wide range of moods created by these stories, from the comedy of 'When The Brigadier Held The King' and 'The Brigadier In England' to the bone-chilling menace of 'How Brigadier Gerard Lost His Ear' and, finally, the near unbearable pathos of his parting from Napoleon in 'How Etienne Gerard Said Goodbye To His Master'. All of the above four are personal favourites of mine – although the last one really does stand out as absolutely superb – while the introduction to the character, 'The Medal of Brigadier Gerard', is also extremely well-written. That's not to suggest that any of the others are weak in any way, though, and there's not a story here I wouldn't want to reread.
There are also explanatory notes at the start of each story placing it in history, which are required reading. (Really required; I accidentally skipped the one at the start of 'The Crime of the Brigadier' and didn't understand the ending at all until I read it.) In addition, there's an excellent introduction by editor Owen Dudley Edwards which is fascinating reading of its own accord.
All in all, this is an absolutely superb collection with only one major drawback – since these are the complete works by a long dead author, there's a terrible feeling when you reach the end and realise that there's no chance of any more to come! Still, I can always return to the Sherlock Holmes stories, I suppose…
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: While most people reading this will no doubt have already tried Sherlock Holmes, going the other way would work as well. For those interested in historical fiction generally, Kings of Albion by Julian Rathbone is a fine work, especially if you're keen on the more comic stories here, while fans of 'How Brigadier Gerard Lost His Ear' may well really enjoy Edgar Allan Poe – may I suggest the brilliant graphic novel Tales of Death and Dementia by Edgar Allan Poe and Gris Grimly? We think you'll also enjoy The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Complete Brigadier Gerard Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.
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