RÉHMY & DE BLANCHEGARDE

 
Full Name: Réhmy & de Blanchegarde
Nationality: French
Organization: French Intelligence
Occupation Agent

Creator: Francis Beeding
Time Span: 1925 - 1927
ABOUT THE SERIES

       Etienne Réhmy & Gaston de Blanchegarde are agents with the French Secret Intelligence, Permanent Staff.
       They are by no means the only characters of note in this series but they are the ones actively employed as operatives. The other two of great interest, Thomas Preston and the diabolical Professor Anselm Kreutzemark, have other occupations.
       Réhmy is for certain an agent for his government's intelligence service. De Blanchegarde is, in the first adventure, described as being with the French Flying Corps, 'temporarily attached' but listening to the history of these two, that attachment has been going for several years and show no signs of ending. They have been working as a team since likely well into the First World War and there is no indication they plan to stop any time soon.
       Réhmy is described as the "cool, competent brain of that curious partnership". He is a "short dark man between thirty and thirty-five" who was "of the Southern French type with the brownest eyes I have ever seen, eager and sanguine of expression". The last part is shown on numerous occasions as he, when not deeply involved in deadly work, is prone to be a happy, cheerful fellow, the kind people like to sit and have a drink with.
       de Blanchegarde is described as "tall and dark. He had a thin kindly face with an indiscriminate sandy moustache cut close and almost level with the ends of his mouth." He had the "eyes and habit of a student" while also having "downcast, stooping manner of the overtrained official." In the partnership, he was "its impulsive and occasionally rash executive". A definite man of action, he chafes when forced to sit and wait, often bounding from a seated position to pace excitedly about a room for a short while before sitting back down in frustration. When it comes time to pounce on an adversary, however, his energy comes in handy a lot.
       Narrating the two adventures and playing a vital role in each is an Englishman named Thomas Preston who works as a representative for his Uncle James of Jebbut & Jebbut, hardware merchants, otherwise known as a traveling salesman. Described by himself as being of fair hair with blue eyes, 5'11", Preston has been sent prior to WWI to study at university in Bonn where he learned during his two years there to speak German like a native. He was to have gone on to Oxford when the war broke out so he joined the army instead and rose to the rank of Captain in the Royal Field Artillery, receiving two wounds and the Military Cross. Preston does not have the training in cloak and dagger work that Réhmy and de Blanchegarde have but he does not lack for intelligence and perseverence, not to mention good old stubborness. Of course in the first adventure he has the heart of a beautiful woman to win, not to mention saving her life at least once, but in the second there is compelling reason for his joining the escapade except his determination to stop a really bad guy.
       Professor Kreutzemark is the bad guy and he does an excellent job in that role. [Note: in some lists of series, it is he that is the named character, not Réhmy or de Blanchegarde nor even Preston though he be the point of view for both tales.] The Professor, as he is called throughout the stories, is "a figure notorious in the archives of every intelligence service in Europe". He is said to be "one of the finest chemists in Germany and responsible for a dozen foul inventions. He it was who discovered Yellow Cross gas".
       The Professor is a man of considerable reputation in the back rooms and alleyways of intrigue. Use of his name can bring recalcitrant fellows to heel and make even stalwart brigands take a pause. When he is angered, which he can be at times though he hides it very well behind a thin curtain of civility, he can with but his sharp tongue and his great control of himself take charge and bring his sense of order.
       Kreutzemark is described as quite tall and thin. He has a golden beard that is, while not odd looking, is nevertheless distinctive. More important to his whole coutenance are his eyes. They are extremely piercing, missing nothing as he slowly looks about a room. His ability to read people's emotions is frightening and his mesmerizing glare can and does hypnotize through his look and his melodic voice. Adding to an already impressive presentation, Kreutzemark travels with a red parrot of "malevolent appearance" who sometimes squawks "I spy strangers!" followed by a piercing whistle. According to Preston, it is very disconcerting.

       With two experienced and dedicated intelligence operatives, one intelligent and resourceful amateur, and one extremely dangerous, vicious, heartless antagonist, this is wonderfully crowded arena.

BOOKS

Number of Books:2
First Appearance:1925
Last Appearance:1927

       The writing team of Palmer and Saunders entertained readers for two decades. They made a great name for themselves as Francis Beeding and produced an impressive array of adventures. Some were mysteries but most were spy novels. All were worth reading. Which makes it a shame that their books are mostly unknown seventy-plus years after their last book was released.

1 The Seven Sleepers The Seven Sleepers
Written by Francis Beeding
Copyright: 1925

Thomas Preston is mistaken for a German agent and is slipped a document signed by the seven richest men in post-war Germany vowing their total support to an unnamed person should he agree to lead a new army against the rest of Europe. Behind the entire affair is Professor Kreutzemark. Trying to stop the return of war is Réhmy and de Blanchegarde.

2 The Hidden Kingdom The Hidden Kingdom
Written by Francis Beeding
Copyright: 1927

Preston is in Spain on business when he is stunned to see a crony of the Professor about to kill Etienne Réhmy. Saving his old friend, Preston finds himself enmeshed in another plot by Professor Kreutzemark, this time using an ancient prophecy in Mongolia to unite the various Mongol tribes into an incredible fighting force to invade Europe.

MY COMMENTS

       There are some incredible writers of spy fiction today presenting fascinating looks into the past; Alan Furst comes immediately to mind. In their words a person can travel back in time and live briefly there. But for really getting a sense of a time, there is nothing like reading books written at the time. There is no interpretation by the author of how the characters might have thought and acted. There is the authentic thoughts and feelings from that time, warts and all.
       When you combine this authenticity with terrific writing skills, you end up with classics by notables such as Buchan and Maugham and, with this first entry by him, Francis Beeding. Of course, "him" is really "them" since Beeding, as mentioned above, was two gentlemen who combined to create several fantastic works of fiction and more than one series characters worth remembering.
       Unfortunately, the author's name is one not often mentioned today because 'his' books are for the most part out of print. I did a search of the web and found many booksellers offering publications from back then but nothing new and Amazon has only two (that I found) ebook versions, one of which was a facsimile edition (still great for reading but not so good for word-searching). Francis Beeding is being lost in obscurity and as one who has read several of the author's titles, I shout out loudly that should not happen.
       I first got to know Beeding's work in the Colonel Granby series (as of this writing I have not yet published my entry on him) and I was hooked. His characters are rich and full-bodied and come wonderfully endowed with quirks and opinions. The latter are not always politically correct in these modern times but just as Huckeberry Finn used the now outlawed "N-word" so too do the Beeding characters mouth thoughts and feelings that were the accepted norm then though not so well received today.
       More interesting (to me) than personal biases or prejudices of the characters are the feelings and moods of the times the author presents and this is exceptionally so with the first book the pair crafted, The Seven Sleepers. Coming out just 7 years after the end of First World War and during a period when Europe was in a state of unbelievable flux, it screams topicality.
       The French, and to a lesser degree the English, are out for flood in forcing war reparations from the vanquished Germans (little mentioned about the Austrians). Frequent calls for the German people to dig deeper and give up even more are heard while on the other side, presented by the "bad guys" in the adventure, Germany has suffered far more than it ever should have. The fault for the war was in the leadership, not the populace, and the former was getting off scot-free while those back home were starving.
       At the same time, there are reports of "hundreds" of secret (and a few not so secret) societies sprouting up in the Fatherland all striving for a chance to gain power and to get a second crack at their new "oppressors". The fact that the first adventure was written about the time that Adolf Hitler was just getting out of prison and had written his Mein Kampf and was planning to do much of what Professor Kreutzemark and his Seven Sleepers was plotting is sobering to say the least.
       Then two years later the second adventure is released and behold, the Professor has an even more audacious plan for world domination. It is especially chilling that he would use as his banner the ancient symbol, the swastika, which the Nazi party had only just a couple years before adopted. It is not a strech to think the authors were linking the Professor and his lot and his grandious but frighteningly possible schemes with that of Hitler and his evil mob.

       Now, enough history!

       Beeding penned two books of adventure. There was a fair amount of social commentary in the pages but make no mistake these are books of intrigue and mystery and danger and excitement. There are plenty of fist fights and gun battles and the occasional bomb going off and lots of duplicity.
       There are also car chases but there is for me a first - the Professor and cronies have fled an estate and it is vital that the heroes catch them. First, Preston has to jump to the front of his vehicle and turn the crank to get it going. Luckily it catches on the first turn so ... the chase was on. How many other books have you read with that added difficulty?
       
       Though Réhmy and de Blanchegarde are the spies in the series, the narrator, Preston, is the main character for everything happens does so around him. He is a more than capable heroic man who could handle himself in most any circumstance, no matter how unusual it is for him, and he has the intrepidity to do so without hesitation (well, not much). He gets himself caught more than once but he gets himself out as well. He gets saved a time or two by his colleagues but he also saves them as well so they get to thinking of him as a team member.
       I mention this because too often in books of this era or before, the narrator is constantly in peril and would be dead several times over without the hero saving his sorry butt. Not so with Beeding. He frequently makes use of poor fellows who accidently get mixed up in trouble but he also frequently makes this babes-in-the-wood turn out to be pretty sharp guys. Preston is such a man.
       
       If I had had the opportunity to ask a question of either author (I couldn't because both had passed before I was born) it would be what prompted them to stop with two books the tales of Réhmy and de Blanchegarde. The year after the second and last adventure came out, they had switched to Colonel Granby with an occasional side trip with a fellow named Ronald Briercliff. We would not see the two monsieurs again.

GRADE

My Grade: A-

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