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GENERAL BESSERLEY

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Full Name: General Samuel Besserley
Nationality: American
Organization: American Intelligence
Occupation Agent

Creator: E. Phillips Oppenheim
Time Span: 1935 - 1939

ABOUT THE SERIES

       General Samuel Besserley is a former agent with the American Secret Service.
       By that we mean the Intelligence community, not the Treasury branch. As the recorded adventures unfold and more information about Besserley is revealed, it becomes known that his work in the clandestine field was apparently quite extensive resulting in his having a very favorable reputation not only back in Washington but in the office of many of Europe's spy departments.
       This work likely, though not certainly, came both before and after the conclusion of the Great War for it is said by some who know him rather well that during that conflict, he "commanded a brigade during the War" and then after he was wounded, he "went straight back to the Secret Service in Washington - where he really belonged".
       Except for these interesting tidbits, however, we learn very little more about Besserley's early days before he came to live along the French Riviera and became "a very popular member of Monaco society". He is by no means a braggart eager to expound on his exploits. Rather, he might mention here or there, when pressed, that he dabbled a bit now and then. His reticence spoke far more about his experiences than any boasting could have said.
       Getting up there in age (his actual age is never mentioned though he refers to himself as an old man more than once), Besserley still commands "fine figure of a man and his carriage was beyond reproach" although if pushed, he would likely admit "there was sometimes a little difficult about the two bottom buttons of his waistcoat". With humor, he puts the blame on "gas". Further, it was said that        "notwithstanding the strength of his face, [he] was a man of jovial and kindly appearance".
       One thing is for certain and that is Besserley is a very rich man though from where his money came is never mentioned. Now he is regarded as a "Monte Carlo institution" and he has the financial luxury to live in a very fine chalet overlooking the Mediterranean, ride in a fine automobile, travel about Europe when whim or necessity takes him, and gamble as he feels the desire in the Casino. One note about the last, though, is that he will make the odd wager now and then but he never does so often and he has little patience with those who cannot control themselves.
       The tales that exist of Besserley are a delightful mixture of problems, each of which he finds an interesting way of solving. More than once this will require making use of his old Intelligence contacts and there is never a doubt that though he is happily and fully retired, he sometimes is not adverse to getting involved in the odd matter or two.

       Here are some interesting quotes from the stories:

"As you know, I am rather a meddler here. People seem to have formed the habit of putting difficult situations before me and asking my advice. I must admit that it interests me sometimes to give it and see how it works out."

"I never forget people who interest me."

"[He] lured me into one of those subtle dens of indigestion - an oyster bar."

When asked by a young woman if it were true that he was a dangerous man to know, Besserly replied simply, "it is, at any rate, flattering".

His young friend and unofficial niece commented once to Besserley, "you know just how much you like everybody. You probably know just how much they like you."

"[One] must now sit in the moonlight with sentimental Royalty."

"An enemy of [Besserley] had once said that the only time he was afraid of Besserley was when he whispered."

An old friend and sometime enemy commented on Besserley "considering your disposition, you were a shrewd and clever worker. But you had one fault. You were a little over-chivalrous."

Besserley comments "it is necessary that every now and then we feel the pulse of life. We mush not allow ourselves to grow old. I have just had a shiver."

"I do not know why in life so many people like to carry with them their sense of antagonism, to nurse their dislikes and to stifle their better instincts."

NOVELLAS AND SHORT STORIES

Number of Stories:21
First Appearance:1935
Last Appearance:1939

1 The Man Who Thought He Was a Pauper The Man Who Thought He Was a Pauper
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1935

1st story in the collection General Besserley's Puzzle Box. Sir Giles, a young British aristocrat, is gambling far too much in the Casino and comes to Besserley for a loan. It seems the young man is determined to win enough to woo a young lady to whom Besserley is like an uncle. For his part, Besserley is curious why a solicitor is trying so hard to forestall such a loan.

2 The Lady in the Grey Wig The Lady in the Grey Wig
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1935

2nd story in the collection General Besserley's Puzzle Box. At a party of a Grand Duke, Besserley is enjoying the gardens when approached by a young, polite man who, pulling a gun, announced he was going to kill the General.

3 The Man Who Harnessed the Laws of Chance The Man Who Harnessed the Laws of Chance
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1935

3rd story in the collection General Besserley's Puzzle Box. Seated at a cafe's table, Besserley has been interested for several days in an odd couple outside the Casino. An elderly man sits on a bench giving numbers to a young girl who heads inside. What really fascinates him, though, comes when he learns that while the numbers seem to be winners, she is reporting losses.

4 The Phantom Fleet The Phantom Fleet
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1935

4th story in the collection General Besserley's Puzzle Box. Washington comes calling in the form of an American businessman with a coded message wanting his help in a matter. The curious thing to Besserley, though, was the man bringing the message used the name of a man murdered a couple days before.

5 The Devil’s Wind The Devil’s Wind
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1935

5th story in the collection General Besserley's Puzzle Box. Besserley was clearly stunned when while seated at a cafe table in the morning he hears a gun shot and runs around the corner to discover the dead body of a young girl, a person he had seen at a party the night before and danced with. The epitome of gaiety and frivolity, he thought, until someone killed her.

6 The Mysterious Pirandettis The Mysterious Pirandettis
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1935

6th story in the collection General Besserley's Puzzle Box. The young brother and sister named Pirandetti may or may not be a Count and Countess as they claim. No one knew of them before they arrived in Monaco. Besserley was intrigued with them but even more so when they disappeared onto a ship pretending to be a yacht, all from an invitation by Besserley that he did not send.

7 The Butterfly in the Death Chamber The Butterfly in the Death Chamber
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1935

7th story in the collection General Besserley's Puzzle Box. An elderly wealthy woman on her death bed calls for Besserley with a sad request concerning an indiscretion made decades before and the young daughter abandoned.

8 Giants in the Countinghouse Giants in the Countinghouse
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1935

8th story in the collection General Besserley's Puzzle Box. One of three brothers ruling a powerful American crime family has come to Monaco to extort the rulership of a small nation from the Grand Duke now controlling it. Besserley learns of this and is determined to bring a stop to it, regardless of the danger to himself.

9 The Bride of the Shining Hour The Bride of the Shining Hour
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1935

9th story in the collection General Besserley's Puzzle Box. A troupe of actors has been performing a festive wedding play in Monaco. The young 'bride' becomes truly engaged to a man in the city but the 'groom' is distraught. Dangerously so, in Besserley'e opinion so he takes steps.

10 The Duchess Gave a Party The Duchess Gave a Party
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

1st story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. A close friend to Besserley, Grace, asks for his help when her husband becomes addicted to gambling. When a new casino is set to open up, run by someone Besserley is suspicion of, his actions are designed to solve two problems.

11 Business for Father Business for Father
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

2nd story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. When the man who ran Monte Carlo asks to Besserley to talk with a gentleman, he is happy to do so. When that newcomer talks of selling bonds to him, he is less interested. When the daughter of the salesman gets involved, Besserley is certain a scam is underway.

12 General Besserley Runs the Gauntlet General Besserley Runs the Gauntlet
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

3rd story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. Visiting Paris, Besserley has a visit with an old colleague from the Great War who tells him that one of their greatest enemies, a female spy named Sylvia Hume, is still alive and now living in France. He is willing to forgive and forget. Others are not.

13 The Unprepossessing Danseuse The Unprepossessing Danseuse
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

4th story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. Besserley is trying to enjoy his evening meal at the Sporting Club but that is difficult since he received a 'vilely scented' notepaper on which was written 'You are in danger, great man' and a warning.

14 The Husband of O-Nan-Sen The Husband of O-Nan-Sen
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

5th story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. Finding a Japanese man searching through his belongings makes Besserley very curious. Discovering the man is searching for a clue to his wife's location in Besserley's belongings makes him even more interested.

15 The Trifling Lapse of the Mayor of St. Marac The Trifling Lapse of the Mayor of St. Marac
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

6th story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. Taking a rare hike into the mountains behind his chateau, Besserley learns of a developer who is planning to toss out a family who has a long term lease but who is delinquent in rent payments. He would have not gotten involved but he did not care the landlord's rudeness.

16 Fifty Thousand Francs and a Marriage Licence for Marie Louise Fifty Thousand Francs and a Marriage Licence for Marie Louise
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

7th story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. The Phallaris was a huge yacht which had just sailed into the harbor of Monaco. There was considerable mystery to who was on it and why and Besserley was party to the secret, one truly of import and secrecy. A woman reporter was as determined to learn that secret as he was to maintain it.

17 The Sphinx Whispered The Sphinx Whispered
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

8th story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. The young woman from Egypt was as mysterious as the Sphinx she said she had slept near in the past, but could she truly control the spinning roulette ball? She did not do it often but when she did, she never failed. Besserley was intrigued, and not a little disturbed.

18 A Wet Day’s Tragedy for Andrew Mason A Wet Day’s Tragedy for Andrew Mason
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

9th story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. On a rainy, dreary day, Besserley was bored and chose to wander about his very large chateau, entering the east wing which he had not done since the day he bought the estate many years before. What he finds in the supposedly vacant set of rooms astonishes him.

19 The Drama on the Sixth Tee The Drama on the Sixth Tee
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

10th story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box. Having finished a round of 9 holes with a friend, Besserley is entreated to do another with a visitor whose identity he was not told. That agreement would land him in the middle of an assassination plot and a likely victim.

20 The Stranger at the Bar The Stranger at the Bar
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

11th story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box.

21 Tresillian Found a Cure Tresillian Found a Cure
Written by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright: 1939

12th story in the collection General Besserley's Second Puzzle Box.

MY COMMENTS

       From the moment I read the first of the short stories in the first Puzzle Box, I was a huge fan of General Besserley. I was a fan of Oppenheim long before this, however, even though just about everything he wrote was not in a series. His novels so captured another era with prose that put me back many decades and characters that kept me there, I could not help but take the occasional sojourn outside my series-hunt into one of his excellent books. Exit a Dictator, The Spy Paramount, The Spymaster, and many more deserve reading by fans of both spy novels and history. And of course there is the terrific The Great Impersonation, deemed by many to be his best.
       I have read a couple of critics who have put his writing down rather fiercely and I so strongly disagree. Oppenheim wrote fascinating tales from his time with pacing that was the custom of writing then. Judging him by today's standards is like, so wrong, dude, ya know? Oh, well, off my soapbox!
       I do truly love the Besserley tales and do feel sorrow that he wrote the second set, which has some of the best of the lot in them, as he neared the end of his life. When I finished the last, they were done. Gone but not forgotten. And there for me to read again in another few years, fate allowing.

GRADE

My Grade: A

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