Biggles Flies East
First published by OUP in 1935, this is still a landmark in excitement for teenagers. Rip-roaring action and excellent characterisation follow Capt. James Bigglesworth, R.F.C. as he opts for double-agent espionage in the Palestine German air-force lines. I read the Biggles books 60 years ago and they still live and move for me, so I am pleased to see this reissue. In this one, the deeper Biggles gets into the cat-and-mouse game the more complex it becomes. But it is hardly a children’s book. More a fast-paced man’s read.
This book has, of necessity, an unusual structure. As Biggles works alone, he cannot express verbally his vital thoughts to anyone, so a large part of the book is his soliloquy for our benefit, shown as speech. There is excellent recounting of his thoughts about working for the German side. The story contains most of the James Bond tricks of spy thrillers such as mistaken identity, disguise, the odd punch-up, weapons and of course expert first-hand telling of aerial dog-fights by the dozen. But, unlike James Bond, there is not a single mention of a female character. Not even Biggles’ girlfriend or mother. It does have the obligatory chase or two, on land across the sand of a desert airfield, round the German headquarters buildings, though oases, and, of course, in the air.
If there is a fault, and this is more a matter of changing publishing styles in the 79 years since first published, it is long sentences. I counted 63 and even 75 word sentences. Chapters average about 16 pages, however. Nevertheless, with excellent syntax, the pace is rapid, and I can recommend Biggles reprints as historically-educating presents for lively minded young people who are not glued to mobile phones.