I was sent this book in exchange for an honest review.
Scoundrels: Volume One by Major Victor Cornwall & Major Arthur St. John Trevelyan (Edited by Duncan Crowe and James Peak)
Opening sentence: ‘Dear Major, You may remember that when we last saw each other things were rather fraught, and during the melee it appears that I lost my watch.’
What a hilarious little riot of a read! Presented as an epistolary novel that documents the exchange of letters between Major Victor Cornwall and Major Arthur Trevelyan, both members of the infamous and highly-exclusive Scoundrels club. This version of the classic English gentleman’s club has a twist, it, ‘offer(s) fellowship and acceptance for chaps whose blood runs hot, and for whom normal life seem(s) unbearably tedious.’ But also, members take on the espionage jobs that can’t be done through the, shall we say, legal channels. Now, the dictionary tells us that a scoundrel is: a dishonest or unscrupulous person; a rogue, and after I give you an overview of what the Majors got up to, you’ll see how the club does indeed have a fitting title.
Despite knowing each other for most of their lives, there is a healthy level of animosity and competition between the Majors, so when Cornwall, now in his 90s, decides he wants to write his memoirs, he doesn’t exactly ask Trevelyan to help, but the two grudgingly decide that sharing their memories would be the best way forward. Case in point, Trevelyan’s take on this arrangement, ‘Whoever came up with the idea that history is written by the winners only got it half-right. In this case history is being written by one winner and a senile old bastard.
Onto the Major’s memories – I laughed out loud in practically every chapter, the deadpan, satirical, witty way their escapades are written is just so entertaining. The Majors start from how they met at boarding school to their life as Scoundrels (from 1931 – 1951, the time span of this book) and their adventures include: a truly intimate glimpse into Hitler’s private life that conjures up a visual scene you will remember for quite some time, an unfortunate end to their Paris to Dakar desert race, (here I should point out that often the vulgar road is taken when describing events. See: a poem Trevelyan writes entitled, Shit Lips, that, yeah… it’s best you read the book and find out – ludicrous but so, so funny!) an encounter with an alluring Japanese assassin who has quite the hidden talent and Trevelyan’s certainly unique take on the Jules Verne classic, Around the World in Eighty Days, which takes a more carnal approach to the story. As you can see, they have a memorable collection of anecdotes!
It’s 2016 when the Majors write their letters to each other and they have both just finished 30-years of house arrest, but tantalisingly we’re not told why, we’ve got to wait for Volume Two for that. Also, I haven’t read a book before where the characters are billed as the authors, but it really helped me to just throw myself into their absurd, hilarious world and enjoy this book even more. Looking forward to Volume Two!