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

Creator: E. Phillips Oppenheim
Time Span: 1934 - 1939


       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."


Number of Books:2
First Appearance:1935
Last Appearance:1939


Number of Stories:21
First Appearance:1934
Last Appearance:1939


       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.


My Grade: A


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