A Different Class of Spy
Set in England in the early 1900’s, the novel uses the founding of the British Secret Service to spin a very well done story about people involved in its inception.
Captain Vernon Kell is looking to set up such a service to serve England both at home and abroad but finds that upper-class individuals traditionally used in high-level government work are not suited for the dirty work needed to get things done in the world of spying. He is working under orders to find some evidence of German activity involved in obtaining secret information on British activities that are geared towards bettering British military capabilities. The use of upper-class gentlemen to do the field work in the spy game gets several killed with no useful information obtained.
One of the men is a policeman named Bill who is killed by Russian anarchists. The killing is noted by Bill’s friend, a man named Wiggins. Kell approaches Wiggins to help find and arrest Bill’s killers and has hit on the best person possible for the job. Wiggins served in the British war against the Boers in South Africa, and as an urchin on London’s streets helped the great detective Sherlock Holmes form a group of children into “The Baker Street Irregulars.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, places this group into activity aiding Holmes in several novels.
The description of London at the point the novel is set in is extremely well researched by H.B. Lyle. We have the combination of horses and horse-drawn wagons, with early motor cars, buses, and trucks; slum areas and homes for the well-to-do, and the beginnings of opportunities for the poor class to climb the economic ladder thanks to the burgeoning industrial revolution.
This novel is obviously the first of what should be a series of books about the organization that later became both MI5 and MI6. The principal characters are in place and a period that has the problem of impending war looming over it. The book stands quite well on its own and the author’s styling is certainly an attraction for novels that will follow.
11/17 Paul Lane
THE IRREGULAR by H.B. Lyle. Quercus (November 7, 2017). ISBN 978-1681440279. 288p.