The title story in this wry collection concerns acquaintances Staunton and Barstow, who witness a bizarre spectacle outside a bar in an Austrian village. A thin-lipped aristocrat steps down from his plush horse-drawn vehicle, and commences formidable target-practice on some playing cards - the Five of Hearts and the Five of Spades. Barstow remains utterly still during this peculiar display, and it emerges that he has witnessed this on six consecutive days - the shooter is the husband of his mistress, and he is challenging Barstow to a duel. Further stories of love, revenge, jealousy and fate complete this stirring volume.
Sapper' is the pen name of Herman Cyril McNeile, born in 1888 at the Naval Prison in Bodmin, Cornwall, where his father was Governor. He served in the Royal Engineers (popularly known as 'sappers') from 1907-19, being awarded the Military Cross during World War 1. McNeile started writing in France, adopting the pen name because serving officers were not allowed to write under their own names. When his first stories, about life in the trenches, were published in 1915 they were an enormous success. But it was his first thriller, 'Bulldog Drummond' (1920) that launched him as one of the most popular novelists of his generation. It had several amazingly successful sequels, including 'The Black Gang', 'The Third Round' and 'The Final Count'. Another great success was 'Jim Maitland', featuring a footloose English sahib in foreign lands. Sapper published nearly thirty books in total, and a vast public mourned his death in 1937, at the early age of forty-eight. There are several feature films of his work.