Gentlemen’s adventure novels

The “men’s adventure” genre has been getting a lot of nostalgic attention lately. (Or maybe there’s always been nostalgia for it on the internet and I’ve only recently started reading the right sites to see it.)

Men’s adventure thrived from the 50’s to the 70’s, in magazines and novels, and seems mostly a US phenomenon. War- fighting Nazis and commies, was a popular subject, as was taking on the might of a threat closer to home- the Mafia. I’m sure I read one or two MA novels in my youth, and last year found a few examples of The Executioner series for a pound a go on a book stall. (The Executioner carried on as a brand and the books are still being released en masse.) I got lucky finding books by “the father of action adventure“, because some of the Executioner knock-offs sound truly, sadistically awful.

Original men’s adventure paperbacks aren’t so easy to get on this side of the pond, so I’ve been reading, and drawing inspiration from, rather more English characters.

Two generations before Mack Bolan came back from the jungles of Vietnam and started putting bullets in the heads of mafiosi, Simon Templar started his career as a dashing scourge of the “ungodly”. Many books, two television series (and a few failed pilots) and one awful film later The Saint is still around, hanging out in New Orleans for yet another TV pilot.

The Saint could be every bit as ruthless as The Executioner when it came to meting out justice. He would regularly kill criminals, connmen and other low-lifes if he felt it was for the greater good. And he always made off with their boodle, so that even the ones who lived were left broken. Come the forties Simon Templar lent his specialist skills to fighting the Nazi threat, and later faced down Communists, but he always did it with a sharp wit, some awful puns and ditties and lots of style.

Before Templar there was Bulldog Drummond. Less well known now than the Saint- though he did have a few film outings- for a long time I only knew of the character from the Bullshot Crummond parody film and for the racism of the character. Now, thanks to the Kindle and lapsing copyright, I have a Bulldog Drummond collection to work my way through.

Sexton Blake is the last of my English adventurers. “The poor man’s Sherlock Holmes” appeared in thousands of stories, by hundreds of authors, over a period of nearly 90 years, though I’d never heard of him until I started researching penny dreadfuls earlier this year. I’ve just started reading the tales in The Casebook of Sexton Blake.

I’m not trying to distill some quintessential English adventurer from these forebears- to appear in my Irwin Baker stories or elsewhere- but I reckon a creation of mine would be more comfortable in their suave company than amongst the gun obsessed killers of men’s adventure.


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