Tam O’ the Scoots

February 13, 2012

When it comes to early 20th century thriller writers, Edgar Wallace is easily my favorite, in spite — or perhaps because — of the fact that his books are mostly ridiculous and terrible. But Tam O’ the Scoots is not terrible at all. Tam O’ the Scoots doesn’t know what terrible is.

It is kind of ridiculous, of course, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are many wonderful things about Tam O’ the Scoots, possibly even including Tam’s Scottish accent. Tam himself is one of them, a mechanic turned pilot who flies better than everyone else, cheerfully cadges cigars off his superiors, and writes poetry to his downed German opponents. The only thing he might be better at than flying is relating his adventures afterward in a dime novel-esque style he gets from his favorite reading material. Basically, Tam would be cooler than everyone else even if he didn’t have a sense of humor, but he does, and so does his author, which means that everything sort of steps up a level.

The other big thing — I mean, besides Tam himself being more delightful than enyone has a right to be — is the dynamic between the British airmen and their German counterparts. They’re constantly trying to kill each other, of course, but they also have a lot of respect and even affection for each other. When Tam shoots down a particularly good German pilot in one of the early stories, someone’s like, “oh, we should send a wreath to the funeral.” Tam concurs, writes a poem to go with the wreath, and flies it over the German lines to drop it in front of the funeral procession himself. And when the German anti-aircraft gunners realize where he’s headed — which they do pretty quickly — they stop firing. In a later story, one of the German pilots has been continuing to fire on British planes after they’re already going down in flames, and everyone is appalled at his ungentlemanly action. Later we get a look at the German aerodrome, and it turns out they’re also troubled by this behavior. They even assist Tam in his plot to scare the offending pilot away. It is, like the rest of the book, ridiculous and delightful in equal measure.

Eventually there’s a girl for Tam to fall in love with. She’s sort of ridiculous and delightful, too.

This book, guys. I like it even more than the early Biggles books. I think that might mean I’ve grown up.


  1. Are any of the Biggles books online?

    • Well, not for free. I think the first Biggles book was published in 1932 or thereabouts. It looks like some of the early ones are back in print, though, and the publisher has made them available as ebooks. And I won’t say you won’t find some pirated texts floating around, if you know where to look.

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