By C.S. Forester
No, it’s not about a U.S. Congressman’s heroic stand to liberate the Middle East with Freedom Fries. Instead it’s a wholesome tale of how a foreign fighter joins a group of religious zealots opposing international forces that have come to liberate their country from a backward and repressive regime. It is of course about the high-tide of Napoleon’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.
If the title seems a bit over the top, don’t blame Walter Jones. In fact this is the British title (big surprise), in America it was called Rifleman Dodd. The titular Dodd is a member of the elite British Rifle Brigade. These men were specialists, trained to be expert marksmen with a rifle. Their skills made them useful as skirmishers and scouts. When Dodd is cut off by an entire French army he joins a band of Portuguese guerillas looking to get revenge against he French for the rapes and murders of innocent civilians. The intimate knowledge of the land coupled with Dodd’s fighting skills make the band a devastating threat to the French.
The story also follows the fortunes of a band of French recruits pitched into the meat-grinder of guerilla war. The increasingly brutalized men find themselves in an almost personal duel with Dodd. The Portuguese countryside becomes a land of terror where men can even credit the supernatural with taking a hand in the bloody warfare.
This is a violent, dark story. It is warfare at its starkest and most merciless. Dodd is something of an unstoppable force, though the price he extracts from his Portuguese comrades is a steep one. It’s a very short novel (a quality I heartily commend) that builds to a climax where the grotesque absurdity of war stands revealed. As a classic tale of Napoleonic warfare originally penned in 1933, it stands up well today. It’s the kind of story we ignore at our peril.