Raffles and Bunny; or, the poor man’s Holmes
Like Corey, I am in the midst of moving. Through the harrowing process of deciding which books get to make the move with me, which stay at my parents’ house and which get listed on Amazon, I came across a small book with an intriguing title: Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman.*
I had picked this book up in a used bookstore maybe a year ago, but had never managed to find the time for it. The protagonists’ silly names were reason enough to at least skim the story, but my interest was piqued after I read the back cover.
The main story is that A. J. Raffles and his old school friend Bunny Manders (oddly identified as “Danvers” in my copy) maintain the lifestyle expected of Victorian gentleman by robbing their neighbors blind. Raffles also plays cricket and Bunny writes, but these occupations do not pay very well — at least not well enough to keep the men in brandy and Sullivan cigars.
Readers will recognize certain aspects of Sherlock Holmes in this and the following “Raffles” novels; author E. W. Hornung was married to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sister, and was close with the man himself. The relationship between Raffles and Bunny is similar to Holmes and Watson’s, and Raffles (like Holmes) always manages to stay about three steps ahead of his companion when unraveling a tricky situation.
This latter technique makes for some awkward writing. Often, Bunny narrates an episode without knowing what is going on, and Raffles must explain the heist to him after the action has occurred. One example is the theft of a large golden cup from the British Museum. Bunny is sent out of the room as a lookout at a crucial moment, and the reader never gets to see how Raffles actually commits the crime. Surely it’s more exciting to see a crime committed than hear about it afterward!
That said, this book made for some excellent reading. If I saw any of its sequels on a bookstore shelf , I’d snatch them up in a second — and fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (or any Victorian mysteries) are likely to feel the same way.
*To clarify, my edition combined the stories in the 1899 collection entitled Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman with a later collection of stories, published in 1901 under the title Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman.