- The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy.
- H. B. Lyle.
- 288 pages.
- Crime / Thriller / Historical Fiction / Spy.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
London 1909: The British Empire seems invulnerable. But Captain Vernon Kell, head of counter-intelligence at the War Office, knows better. In Russia, revolution; in Germany, an arms race; in London, the streets are alive with foreign terrorists. Kell wants to set up a Secret Service, but to convince his political masters he needs proof of a threat – and to find that, he needs an agent he can trust. The playing fields of Eton may produce good officers, but not men who can work undercover in a munitions factory that appears to be leaking secrets to the Germans.
Kell needs Wiggins. Trained as a child by Kell’s old friend Sherlock Holmes – he led a gang of urchin investigators known as the Baker Street Irregulars – Wiggins is an ex-soldier with an expert line in deduction and the cunning of a born street fighter. ‘The best’, says Holmes.
Wiggins turns down the job – he ‘don’t do official’. But when his best friend is killed by Russian anarchists, Wiggins sees that the role of secret agent could take him towards his sworn revenge.
Tracking the Russian gang, Wiggins meets a mysterious beauty called Bela, who saves his life. Working for Kell, he begins to unravel a conspiracy that reaches far beyond the munitions factory.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through bookbridgr in exchange for an honest review.
The Irregular takes place in Edwardian London in 1909 and tells the story of Wiggins. Just about managing to get by, Wiggins is employed as a bailiff and is struggling to get by, it’s a rough life, a harsh time and it’s even harder to make an honest living. Approached by Captain Vernon Kell to aid the Empire and become an agent for him Wiggins initially declines the offer (Kell wants Wiggins due to his lower class upbringing, he’ll be able to fit in where the high-class gentry can’t).
While out with his friend, tragedy then befalls Wiggins, trying to do the right thing and stop an armed robbery perpetrated by the Russian anarchist movement, his friend is shot and dies. Vowing revenge for his murdered friend Wiggins soon comes to realise that on his own and with no resources he won’t be able to get very far and so he searches out Captain Kell. With the offer accepted Wiggins is recruited as an agent, going undercover in a munitions factory that is leaking secrets to the Germans, this job then gives Wiggins the means to look into his friend’s death (on the side and unofficial). What follows is a tale of espionage and terrorism as secrets are unravelled and deceit is revealed as Wiggins delves ever deeper in his attempts to find his friends killers, whilst simultaneously trying to gather the proof of a threat that Kell requires to set up the Secret Service.
Wiggins jerked his head round just as the beggar leapt from his place, tossed the blanket aside and ran. ‘Cheeky sod,’ Wiggins whistled under his breath. He heaved another lungful of London’s vile stink and resumed the chase.
Wiggins is a great main character to base the book around, Lyle has taken someone who was a secondary character from one of the best fictional canon’s created and brought him to life. The young street urchin who was the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars is now a grown man and thanks to Lyle the star of his own book and series. Wiggins isn’t part of the gentry, ex-army, he’s street savvy and life has been tough for him. Due to his association with Holmes, Wiggins has himself picked up some of the great Detective’s traits, he’s a dab hand at deduction, a likeable everyman sort of fellow that you can really get behind and root for, he’s a character that you want to succeed in both his mission and his quest for revenge.
The secondary characters are also used to great effect to draw you in, from the hulking, brooding and menacing form of Yakov, the charismatic Peter with a penchant for sweets, both Russian anarchists, Captain Vernon Kell and his wife Constance, Vincas (you want to see him get what’s coming to him, every book has that one character you hate above others) to Bela who strikes up a friendship with Wiggins after saving his life, she is a character who has her secrets, I can’t tell you what role she plays, spoilers! But her back story is a bleak one.
‘Nah.’ Milton grinned. ‘But the army. Sends them doollaly. My old man gave everything to the British Army, so he did. Never the same again. Broken, he was, broken. Left us wiv nothing.’
We see both Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in flashbacks from Wiggins youth as we learn about the formation of the Baker Street Irregulars and there are also a couple of fleeting cameos from the pair in the main present day story. While these appearances within the main story add nothing overall to the tale, they are nonetheless nice little additions, nods to two classic literary characters and for me personally, I found it a pleasure that they both briefly appeared.
Lyle does a great job of bringing the metropolis of Edwardian London to life, the bustling city streets, the train stations, the squalor, filth and deprivation of the time, the dark and dank alleys, the divide between the rich and the poor, it’s a tough place for the poor while the rich live in luxury, all this and more make the setting come alive on the pages.
The pacing in The Irregular is near perfect, the chapters always move the storylines nicely along, the occasional flashbacks never outstay their welcome and add additional detail to the back story, all in all it’s a fast paced and action packed read with violence, emotion, some poignant moments and plenty of twists and turns that thanks to Lyle’s writing, really pulls you into the story he is telling, keeping you invested from the first page to the last.
He shook his head again, but slower this time, gentler. He’d seen enough men die to know that once the anger was gone, only the sadness remained.
The Irregular is the first book in the series and the TV rights have already been acquired. While it’s not a genre I often frequent (I’m a fantasy fan, it’s nice to read something different on occasion). Going on how much I personally enjoyed the book, I can’t wait to read more in the series and I also think that it will make for a damn good period drama TV show.
There is a lot to like in The Irregular, it’s definitely a book that I’d highly suggest to fans of historical fiction, crime, spy and thriller readers alike.
The Irregular merges together actual events and real-life persons with fictional characters and storyline to form an origin story for the secret service. Added together these aspects make for a rip-roaring page-turner of a book and a rollicking good read.
Pre-order The Irregular (released May 18th 2017).
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