Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Review: "Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard"

You know Sherlock Holmes. You may even know Professor Challenger. But do you know Brigadier Etienne Gerard, the hero of eighteen short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? His Exploits and Adventures are collected in an NYRB classics edition (2001), and if you're in the mood for some humorous little stories of gallantry under fire, I recommend them highly.

Gerard, a plucky little cavalryman serving under his beloved Napoleon, may not always understand what's going on around him (the Emperor himself notes "I believe that if he has the thickest head he has also the stoutest heart in my army"), but he will always try his best to do what he thinks is expected of him (which is, usually, exactly the opposite of what really is expected of him).

In his introduction to the volume George MacDonald Fraser calls Brigadier Gerard Conan Doyle's "most likable and most human" character, and the brazen hussar certainly deserves both of those descriptors. It's impossible not to laugh at his misreadings of situations, his inability to withstand a pretty face, and his unwavering commitment to the cause of his Emperor.

Finding a new Conan Doyle character is always a delight; finding one as amusing as Brigadier Gerard is a rare treat indeed.