'Three Cheers for Me' - Book Review

Three Cheers for Me
by Donald Jack
PaperJacks, 248p.

The literary character Bartholomew Bandy was born in 1893 - or 1974, if we go by the first book published starring him. He's been described as the "Canadian Harry Flashman," which is both very accurate and kind of wrong: Flashman's most notable characteristic was that he was a coward, and Bandy certainly isn't that. But other than that, they're both famed comedic literary (anti-)heroes with a long-running series of books to their names. Three Cheers for Me was the first book Jack wrote about his popular hero.

I read these young (12? 14?) and they gave me a lifelong interest in the planes of the first World War - with the details from Jack's books always proving correct when I remembered them in later years. I read this one and the third one (It's Me Again) four or five times each back then. (I didn't like the second in the series as much.)

Bandy was born in a small fictional town not far from Ottawa, Ontario. His most notorious feature is his "great blank face," a "face like a horse" - a face that often incites antagonism in people the instant he meets them. This isn't helped by his frequent inability to pick up on social cues. The book details his short career in the trenches (in a night raid he manages to get disoriented and attacks his own comrades), and then his conversion to one of the best fighter pilots of the first World War.

Donald Jack was a pilot in the Second World War. The Bandy books are known for their technical accuracy: obviously it helped that Jack was a pilot himself, but he clearly did his homework with the technical details of the trenches and the aircraft Bandy piloted being spot on. This leads to an odd mix: extraordinary accuracy in the warfare (including multiple people dying) followed by scenes of equally extraordinary farce. Mind you, that's kind of how it went during the war(s): you watched your friends die on the front lines, then you got some leave and partied like there was no tomorrow (because there was a fair chance there wouldn't be).

I'm finding much of the comedy is too broad or too silly for me these days, so I didn't enjoy the book as much as I did as a teen. But I still enjoy the flying, it's still funny, and some of the ludicrous stuff still works for me, so I had no trouble getting through the book.