James Schuyler 'Jimgrim' Grim is a freelance agent.
That is the best way I have found to describe him though there is plenty of argument for a different case.
When we initially meet him in the first recorded adventure of him, he is an agent with British Intelligence. It would be more accurate at times to place him with that country's military intelligence wing since it is the British Army that is in control of the area of the world where all of the adventures we have of his man take place; namely the Middle East.
The most striking aspect of Jimgrim's lengthy tour of duty in that region is that while he holds, when we first meet him, the legitimate rank of Major in the Army, Jimgrim is an American by birth. He first came to the Middle East during the early years of World War I working T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) to help the Arabs throw off the centuries' old Ottoman Empire rule. He then stayed around to help Britain keep control of the reason they 'inherited' after the Ottoman collapse. Jimgrim is approximately 34 years old when we first encounter him.
A bit later we learn that Jimgrim, as he is known by everyone who has any dealings with him "all over the Near East, Arabia, parts of Africa, and from Dera Isfail Khan to Sikkim", has worked at one time or another for other Intelligence agencies. It is written that he "has served in the Intelligence Departments of at least five nations, always reserving United States citizenship".
"He speaks a dozen languages so fluently that he can pass himself off as a native; and since he was old enough to build a fire and skin a rabbit the very midst of danger has been his goal, just as most folk spend their lives looking for safety and comfort. When he is what other men would reckon safe, the sheer discomfort of it bores him."
One fellow who knew Jimgrim well stated that "he is the best friend a man could have, the least talkative, the most considerate; and he seems to have no personal ambition-which, I suppose, is why the world rewarded him with colonelcies that he did not seek and opportunities for self-advancement that he never used. Jimgrim could have had anything he cared to ask for in the way of an administrative post; and, funnily enough, the one thing that he always wanted was denied him. From his youth he wished to be an actor. That he is one of exceeding merit, is beyond dispute; but, except for occasional amateur performances behind the lines of armies, he has never set foot on the stage."
"He looks as if he were half-Cherokee, although I believe there is only a trace of red man in his ancestry. He has a smile that begins faintly at the corners of his eyes, hesitates there as if to make sure none will be offended by it, and then spreads until his whole face lights with humor, making you realize that he has understood your weakness and compared it with his own. If you have any self-respect at all you can't pick quarrels with a man who takes that view of life; the more he laughs at you, the more you warm toward him, since he is laughing at himself as well as you."
It is also said of Jimgrim that except when it comes to fulfilling whatever his current mission is, he has no real desire to. He definitely prefers to keep most of his thoughts to himself. "He makes less noise than a panther on a dark night; and I never knew a man less given to persuading you". Even more interesting is the comment "He has one purpose but almost never talks about it".
"All the news of Asia from Alexandretta to the Persian Gulf and from Northern Turkestan to South Arabia reaches Grim's ears sooner or later. He earns his bread and butter knitting all that mess of cross-grained information into one intelligible pattern; after which he interprets it and acts suddenly without advance notices. Time and again, lone-handed, he has done better than an army corps, by playing chief against chief in a land where the only law is individual interpretation of the Koran."
Vital to the enjoyment of the adventures of Jimgrim and his friends is an understanding of the Near and Middle East in which the activities take place.
The time period is just after the end of World War I. The entire area, from all the North African nations to the Levant and Palestine, south to the Arabian Peninsula, is a major hotbed of intrigue and unrest. After such a long time of control by the Turks who, though Moslem, were decidedly not Arab, the majority of the citizenry were of Arab descent and extremely eager for a taste of self-rule, promised them by the English and the French at the end of the Great War. At the same time, according to the author, Zionist Jews were "arriving in droves" into the area in response to a "brand-new mandate from a brand-new League of Nations" dedicated to fulfilling the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to create a country for the Jews. "The Arabs, who owned most of the land, were threatening to cut all the Jews' throats as soon as they could first get all their money." Add to that the newly introduced interests of the Bolsheviks arriving from Moscow with their own needs and plans for the region.
In such an environment, the need for someone of Jimgrim's skills and tact and determination is vital and the man who obviously loves the excitement and danger that his profession brings with it is very much in his element.
From the early words of the first recorded adventure of Jimgrim comes an interesting observation of the difference in Turkish and British control of the region: "Turks entirely understood the arts of suppression and extortion, which they defined as government. The British, on the other hand, subject their normal human impulse to be greedy, and their educated craving to be gentlemanly white man's burden-bearers, to a process of compromise. Perhaps that isn't government. But it works. They even carry compromise to the point of not hanging even their critics if they can possibly avoid doing it."
After a good number of exciting adventures in the Middle East, though, Jimgrim finds his interest waning, apparently, because he is enticed to go walkabout with his friends, accompanying them to other exotic regions though he seems to maintain his authority to a large degree. From Arabia Grim et al will travel through other British controlled lands until they get go the Himalayas.
The friends mentioned who accompany Jimgrim places, and sometimes pull him along with their travels are fellow American Jeff Ramsden, Australian adventurer Jeremy Ross, and Jimgrim's ever-present companion, Narayan Singh. eventually they will form a partnership with they dub the 'Jack-of-all-trades Union', engaging in whatever they find interesting: "Exploring expeditions fixed up which you wait. Kings dethroned and national boundaries rearranged to order...Revolutions produced or prevented. Horses swapped. Teeth pulled by the piece or dozen. Everything's contracted for, from flaying whales to raising potatoes on Mount Everest, wholesale jobs preferred".
Also of interest after some time is Meldrum Strange, said by Ramsden to be "one of the nine richest men in the world". Eventually he will play a large role in the adventures of the group at the time they start to get the wanderlust.
- "It was difficult to find one line of observation. Whatever anybody told you was reversed entirely by the next man."
- "You can't be 'epic' and not make enemies."
- "An Armenian told me [the Americans operating in Palestine] could skin fleas for their hides and tallow."
- "The Prussians weren't openly rude to anyone they weren't sure they could lick."
- In chess as in government, "your game is not lost as long as your king can move. That's why the men who want to hurry up and start a new political era imprison kings and cut their heads off."
- "Walk wide of the man and particularly of the woman, who makes a noise about lining your pocket or improving your condition."