Hmm, it seems like I am the first person to actually make some comments on this book, but then again I always like to leave a few comments on books that I have read, even if they are pretty a part of an extended (and sometimes open ended) series (not that I actually read many series any more, but Biggles is cool so that is why I grabbed some from my Dad's collection).
This adventure takes Biggles and his companions to the deepest, darkest, and remotest parts of Africa to attempt to locate a bandit known as the 'Black Elephant' who has been raiding settlements and caravans over an area that makes most parts of Europe (but not Australia) look minute. The problem is that the terrain is so rugged, and the bandits move so fast, that using traditional methods simply are not working, which is why Biggles and his gang of flyboys are approached to try and put a stop to them. However, once again, even though they have planes, the terrain is so rugged, and the bandits move so fast (as well as being quite familiar with the area) that simply flying planes over the area would simply end up being a waste of time and fuel.
However, once again, Biggles, with his Holmesian deductive reasoning, comes to save the day. Through the use of logic (and his experience as an adventurer who has travelled to some of the remotest parts of the world) he manages to work out how these bandits operate, and when Ginger accidentally stumbles upon the secret road that they use to cross the vast continent, the Black Elephant's plans to create an immense African empire end up coming to nothing.
There are a couple of interesting things that I picked up from the book. First of all Johns seems to go to great length to emphasis that this book is not portraying native Africans as being savage and barbaric people. Biggles states that if he takes the job, he does not want the wrong message going out to the media, and he also wants it to be known that he is after the Black Elephant because he is a criminal, not because he is a native African.
The other thing that I thought of as I read this book was how is it that Western Europe managed to solve their warlike problems of the past whereas the Africans still seem to be slaughtering each other (and Rwanda is an example of that). I guess the answer to that is two fold:
1) The African nations (that is the tribal groupings of Africans rather than the countries, because the countries do not represent the tribal groupings as the European countries do, but rather are the result of European colonisation during the late 19th and early 20th centuries) never developed technology in the way that the Europeans did, so there was never really an arms race. Much of the time the Africans were able to live independently of other nations – there was never the space problems that Europe had – and it was only when one tribe began to move into the hunting grounds of neighbouring tribes that wars occurred. Thus without the problems of space that the Europeans had, the need for an arms race never occurred.
2) European colonisation effectively carved up the African continent for their own purposes, and when the colonies began to be dismantled, the maps were not drawn along tribal lines, but rather handed over to the inhabitants which resulted in the more powerful nations ruling over the less powerful ones. The rise of the dictators, the the failures of democracy, were never able to advance the African continent towards modern governmental institutions. It is also suggested that the Western nations acted to keep friendly dictators in power to prevent such advancements. Consider China, where the Europeans were kicked out shortly after World War II – they have now risen to become a super power that can rival the United Sates. By supporting corrupt dictatorships, and using the continent to fight proxy wars against their enemies, much of the African continent has remained in poverty and very much underdeveloped.