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Thursday 30 July 2015

'The Mystery of Tunnel 51' by Alexander Wilson

Published by Allison & Busby,
2 May 2015.
ISBN 978-0-7490-1805-4
First published in 1928

This is a full blooded 1920s thriller of the Bulldog Drummond ilk.  It begins quietly with an officer arriving at the foot of the Simla Hills carrying an important map which is greatly desired by the enemies of British India.  After he is stabbed and killed the authorities in India send for Sir Leonard Wallace, chief of the Intelligence Department.  Wallace and his assistant Major Brien fly out from England in a specially chartered plane to investigate.  The journey takes four days using two pilots.

The enemy is assumed to be a group of Russian Bolsheviks and villainous enemies they certainly prove to be.  It is a rollicking tale as the battle of wits goes to and fro and each side gains superiority only to be quickly defeated again.  It is a violent struggle as it is phrased at one point - they  ..." placed their two opponents hors de combat in a groaning, gasping heap of mixed humanity."  On our side are brave men though we have the occasional bad egg who spies for the Russians.  On their side are wily leaders showing fiendish cruelty.  The heroes withstand unbelievable punishment but maintain their sangfroid - unless their beautiful wives are threatened!

Stereotypes abound but they do contribute to the period atmosphere!
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
This is the first of a series of reprints about Wallace of the Secret Service.

Alexander Wilson was born in Dover in 24 October 1893. He was educated at St. Joseph's College, Hong Kong a prestigious public school St Boniface's Catholic College in Plymouth where he played amateur soccer. He served in the Royal Navy at the start of World War I. He was then commissioned in 1915 in the Royal Army Service Corps escorting motor transports and supplies to France. He received disabling injuries to his knee and shrapnel wounds to the left side of his body before being invalided, and received the Silver War Badge. He was in the merchant navy in 1919 serving as a purser on a requisitioned German liner SS Prinzessin, sailing from London to Vancouver via South Africa, China and Japan. In the early 1920s he was actor-manager of a touring repertory company, which was world renowned. In 1925, he went to British India to become Professor of English Literature at Islamia College, the University of Punjab in Lahore (now part of Pakistan). He began writing spy novels while in India and received his first contract for The Mystery of Tunnel 51 from Longmans and Green Co. in 1927. His fictional chief of the British Intelligence Service, Sir Leonard Wallace, first appears in Chapter IX. There is no documentary evidence that Wilson himself had any connections with MI6 (The Secret Intelligence Service), MI5 (The Security Service) IPI (Indian Political Intelligence in London) or the Indian Intelligence Bureau in Delhi at this time. In total, Wilson wrote and published three academic books and 24 novels; he also wrote 4 unpublished manuscripts. The Sir Leonard Wallace character appears closely based on the first 'C' of MI6 Mansfield Smith-Cumming.
He died 4 April 1963, after four wives, and a most colourful life.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

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