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Thursday 23 July 2015

‘Wallace of the Secret Service’ by Alexander Wilson

Published by Allison and Busby.
1 May 2015
ISBN 978-0-7490-1815-3

This is the third in a series of 8 books (originally published in the 1920s and 30s) featuring Sir Leonard Wallace, Chief of the Intelligence Department.  The ten short stories follow his journeys around Europe, Egypt and India, defending the interests of the country he loves.  The steely-eyed, one-armed hero displays his abilities as a linguist and master of disguise, as well as his deep knowledge of world politics and economics.  In Russia he meets Lenin and (briefly) Trotsky and in India, encounters Ghandi.  The writer’s own background and the territory covered means that there is some interesting period detail and comment, including a pithy paragraph on Afghanistan.

The modern reader perhaps sees a Boys’ Own character with dashes of James Bond (spot the nifty tracking device), Simon Templar and Paul Temple, among others.  Sir Leonard’s devoted subordinates follow him into the greatest danger, knowing that his keen intelligence and courage will be too much for their devious opponents.  They travel in planes and boats and trains, as well as cars, and don’t like to miss a meal.  Wives feature in a couple of adventures and, fortunately for Sir Leonard and his deputy, Major Brien, are made of stern stuff and have forgiving natures.

The prose style is of its time, but moves at a fair pace and there is much that is entertaining and interesting in travelling with Sir Leonard and his brave associates.
Reviewer:  Jo Hesslewood
Other books by the author:  The Mystery of Tunnel 51, The Devil’s Cocktail

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.

Jo Hesslewood.  Crime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop .  I enjoy attending crime fiction events and currently organise events for the Margery Allingham Society.

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