Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tiger Standish Comes Back

Tiger Standish Comes Back was the second of Sydney Horler’s Tiger Standish thrillers. It appeared in 1934. Today Horler is perhaps the most widely reviled of all British thriller writers of that era, for reasons that have little to do with his abilities as a writer.

In Tiger Standish, published in 1932, the eponymous hero had foiled the plans of an international criminal gang. Now the leader of the gang, the sinister Rahusen, wants his revenge. Rahusen wants Standish dead but he wants him to suffer first, so his first targets will be Standish’s wife and his father. The plot follows the familiar template established by H. C. McNeile (“Sapper”) in his Bulldog Drummond thrillers, with kidnapping and various narrow escapes being crucial ingredients. It’s not just a simple revenge story however - Rahusen is mixed up in another vast conspiracy which could bring the British government to its knees and threaten world peace.

Standish had been an agent with the ultra-secret British intelligence unit Q1 and Q1 will become involved in this new adventure. This is not entirely to Tiger’s liking - he prefers to operate as a lone wolf.

The expected plot twists are all there along with plenty of action. There are knife-wielding assassins, the criminal gang has a cunningly concealed secret headquarters, the villains are ruthless and vicious, the hero adopts disguises, there are car chases - all the usual ingredients.

Standish was clearly modeled on Bulldog Drummond. Both are very much upper-class heroes although Standish is even more upper-class than Hugh Drummond, being the son of an earl. Naturally such a hero is a fine sportsman, although oddly enough Tiger’s sporting prowess lies not in games like cricket or rugger but in football (or soccer as those outside of England call it). And while you might expect a rugged masculine hero like Tiger to have a faithful dog what he in fact has is a faithful cat. Possibly Horler thought this would be an interesting twist, or perhaps he was simply a cat-lover himself. Mind you Richard the Lion is, as cats go, somewhat heroic.

Sydney Horler (1888-1954) wrote 157 novels, including mysteries, thrillers, adventure tales and football stories (a rather popular sub-genre in Britain at that time). His books sold in the millions.

Unfortunately for his lasting reputation Horler held the sorts of views that are nowadays regarded as being totally unacceptable - he believed in King and Country and in the Church of England and he disapproved of sexual immorality. The fact that his hero was a member of the aristocracy merely compounded the sin. Sadly most modern critics simply cannot get past these things and assume that if they disagree with a writer’s political views  then that writer must necessarily be a bad writer. Horler was even more conservative than H. C. McNeile so even those who grudgingly admit that the Bulldog Drummond stories have a certain zest tend to simply condemn Horler out of hand.

Despite what the somewhat hysterical condemnations of critics like Colin Watson might lead you to believe, unless you’re really consciously looking for something to be offended by you’ll find Tiger Standish Comes Back to be relatively innocuous. 

To be honest Horler is not in the premier division of British interwar thriller writers - he can’t quite match the gusto of the Bulldog Drummond novels and he doesn’t quite have the style and panache of Leslie Charteris’s Saint stories or the sheer manic exuberance of Berkeley Gray’s Norman Conquest books. Horler was however a perfectly competent second division thriller writer and the Tiger Standish novels are thoroughly entertaining. There’s not a lot of literary polish on display but there’s a rough-hewn blustering vitality that is quite appealing.

Tiger Standish Comes Back is not exactly subtle but it’s enjoyably trashy fun. Recommended.


  1. "Tiger’s sporting prowess lies not in games like cricket or rugger but in football"

    Some of the top English public schools, played and play football rather than rugby. Concern over the damage scrumming might do to those aristocratic features, perhaps. Eton, Winchester and Harrow (and perhaps others) actually have their own peculiar versions of football as well as playing ordinary soccer. Two of the most important football clubs - and teams - were Corinthian and Casuals (which began by being restricted to boys who went to Eton, Winchester and Charterhouse)

  2. Horler claimed that "Richard the Lion" was modelled on his own Persian cat. Perhaps one of the few features of any of his books that had a basis in the real world.