The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy by H B Lyle

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The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy by H B Lyle

Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A wonderful Edwardian murder thriller with the feeling of Peaky Blinders and Ripper Street. The best thing is that this is a first of series – definitely a must read for those who enjoy tense thrills with history attached.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 978-1473655348

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London 1909: Revolution is spreading throughout Russia and Europe. Meanwhile Britain, a land growing accustomed to peace, is becoming a magnet for spies and disruption. Vernon Kell, Head of War Office Counter-Intelligence, knows that the country's equilibrium depends on the discovery and disposal of the growing number of foreign spy networks. Unfortunately his masters in government can't see what he can and Kell's own agents are being killed off too fast for him to collect evidence. That's when he meets Wiggins. This is a man with a superlative background: trained by Sherlock Holmes and, years back, a star of Holmes' child Irregulars. Now Kell is getting somewhere… Let battle commence!

H B Lyle is a Londoner in love with the city; a passion and fact that permeates through his descriptions and the atmosphere throughout this, his debut novel that brings us history with a twist.

In this historical thriller real life organised crime and criminals vie with the fabled. HB shows us the heights of excitement and suspense that can be attained by dabbling a little, bringing the best of both worlds together. (For those who prefer a distinct differentiation, there are great historical notes at the back of the book.) Our two heroes are a case in point.

Vernon Kell existed, eventually forming a home secret intelligence bureau that became MI5. We meet him as a counter-espionage spy-master with dwindling resources as his men are sliced, diced and despatched (sometimes literally). He's running on limited time as, on the whole, the government (offering us cameos from the likes of a young Winston Churchill) consider him a thorn in their side and a chap who sees a conspiracy under every flowerpot. Kell's future success depends on Wiggins and that's probably just as well.

Wiggins is the fictional half of the partnership. He's in the police when we meet him but hasn't always been a paragon of establishment virtue. Much of his later childhood was spent on the streets surviving the best he can and it's there he was effectively salvaged by Sherlock. Here we have one of the things that makes the book shine: Wiggins' replication of the great detective's deduction style.

Wiggins is a man of the people and therefore the ideal guide to show us the powder keg that is working class, poor London at that time. Revolutionaries like the notorious and existing Peter the Painter see their chance to stir things up in a bid to echo the contemporary events in Russia. Add to this German spies seeking information to assist their arms build-up back home and we see why Wiggins is developing justifiable paranoia. (That and the dappled fates of his predecessors of course.)

The novel has a Peaky Blinders/Ripper Street mood to it so it's not surprising that it's been picked up by a TV production company. It's just as unsurprising that there's a second book planned because, apart from a very slight wince at a Bond connection at the end (just one sentence so just a quick wince) it's a novel from a writer who leaves us wanting more.

(Thank you, Hodder & Stoughton, for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals and you'd like to continue delving into Edwardian espionage, we recommend An Unlikely Agent by Jane Menczer. If you also like the idea of a history/fiction mix then we offer you a historical crime thriller that includes Agatha Christie in A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

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Buy The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy by H B Lyle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy by H B Lyle at


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