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Wednesday 14 October 2015

‘The Devil's Cocktail’ by Alexander Wilson

Published by Allison & Busby,
May 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-1810-8

The Devil's Cocktail  is set in the 1920s, at a time when Great Britain still had an Empire, with India as one of its greatest jewels.

Sir Leonard Wallace, chief of the British Intelligence Department, has received warning of a serious plot brewing in India and decides to send Captain Hugh Shannon to Lahore, disguised as a Professor of English Literature, working at a Muslim College. Accompanying Shannon is Jerry Cousins, a very talented and experienced agent, who is masquerading as Shannon's valet. Shannon's sister, Joan, is also going to India with them. Joan and Shannon have no other living relatives and are devoted to each other.

On board the ship to India, Shannon and Joan make two unwelcome acquaintances: a young woman who tries to entrap Shannon, and Hudson, a British official in India, who attempts to seduce Joan. They also make a more welcome friend, Oscar Miles, a member of the United States Secret Service.

Established in Lahore, Shannon and his companions suffer many attacks, both physical and upon their good names. They uncover a dastardly plot by the Germans, Russians and Chinese to take control of India and overthrow the British Empire. This culminates in a kidnapping that strikes at their very hearts. Fortunately, at the last minute, when all seems lost, an unexpected player takes a hand in the game.

The Devil's Cocktail was first published in 1928 and has been out of print for many decades until it was republished this year. It is a book that is very much of its time, probably best described as a 'rattling good yarn.' Many of the attitudes are totally out of tune with modern thinking. Also no longer common is the certainty; in this book the heroes never doubt that they are fighting in an unarguably just cause. There are few shades of grey amongst the main protagonists: heroes and heroine are without fault and the villains are utterly evil. That said, it is great fun to read, an action packed tale in which the reader can be comfortably convinced that the heroes will prevail and virtue will be rewarded.

An enjoyable read for anybody who is interested in the fiction and attitudes prevalent between the two World Wars.
Reviewer:  by Carol Westron

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.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.


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