The first Saturday in May is upon us, and here comes Six Degrees of Separation, the book meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.
This month, to start us off, Kate has chosen a book that I haven’t read yet by a favourite author of mine.
True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey is about Ned Kelly, an Australian bandit famed for wearing homemade armour, including a full face helmet, in his final shoot out with the police.
One of my favourite short stories by J D Salinger also features a bandit who covers his face, but for different reasons. ‘The Laughing Man’ appears in the collection Nine Stories and is about a child kidnapped by Chinese bandits who brutally disfigure his face to prevent him being recognised. The Laughing Man is an athletic, Robin Hood-like character who can also talk to animals.
The Laughing Man’s heroic feats of larceny make me think of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar by Maurice Leblanc, another collection of nine short stories, this one featuring the exploits of the titular thief and master of disguise. Lupin meets an aging Sherlock Holmes in the final story in this collection.
E W Hornung was the brother-in-law of Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. Hornung created another gentleman thief, A J Raffles, who is also a master of disguise. The Amateur Cracksman gathers together eight of Hornung’s early Raffles short stories.
Leslie Charteris’s take on the gentleman burglar, Simon Templar, aka The Saint, also had his exploits described in short stories and novellas, but he first appeared in the novel Meet the Tiger in 1928. In this first outing, Templar is depicted as a gentleman adventurer, tasked with recovering stolen gold from his adversary The Tiger.
Charteris based The Saint on Robin Hood, the classic thief and bandit whose story I absorbed as a child from a secondhand copy of E Charles Vivian’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. Vivian is among those who add nobility to the myth, claiming Robin Hood as the alter-ego of Robin of Loxley disguised in his suit of Lincoln Green.
Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley introduces us to a character who is the reverse of Robin Hood. On first meeting, he seems similar to The Saint, in that he is tasked with a mission, this time to bring home from Italy a former classmate, Dickie Greenleaf. But Tom Ripley, like A J Raffles, is also a master of disguise – with an ignoble difference. He’s a conman who ends the novel assuming the identity of a dead man in order to access his inheritance.
My chain this month is all about bandits, in one form or another. Each of them uses disguise to achieve their criminal ends. Most of them are from upper class families and find it easy to justify their criminality as being to the benefit of some greater good.
What links would Ned Kelly spark for you? Why not check out the chains other readers have made via Kate’s blog?