The 19th-century adventures of Captain Matthew Hervey continue as our dashing hero, on a spying mission to India, tangles with bloodthirsty Pindaree raiders, conniving agents of the British East India company, a righteous rajah, and a wild, crashing boar.
Introduced in A Close Run Thing (1999) as a land-based rendition of Patrick O’Brian’s British seafaring Aubrey-Maturin series, Mallinson’s Hervey is a handsome, veddy British cavalry officer in his early 20s whose solid education, gift with languages, and sword-flashing fearlessness atop his faithful steed Jessye, is offset only by a youthful clumsiness: in an early episode here, Hervey knocks himself out when he charges valiantly into a French building and bangs his head on a ceiling beam. He is appropriately timid with women (an aristocratic English lass awaits his return) and also has a healthy conscience: it depresses him to see poor peasants brutally disemboweled, or brave soldiers tortured and mutilated because they happened to be on the losing side. Now, having been made aide-to-camp to the Duke of Wellington after running a crucial mission at Waterloo, Hervey is sent to India to observe the famed Bengal lancers, with instructions to spy on operations of the British East India Company and to destroy evidence of the Duke’s ownership of some politically incorrect income-producing estates. The India Hervey encounters is a dangerously exotic refuge for numerous English misfits seeking to plunder and pleasure their way across the subcontinent. Like the elephant that Hervey rescues from quicksand (thereby endearing himself to the wily Rajah of Chintal), Mallinson mires his hero in discursive mealtime dialogue about cultural and military tedium, then pulls him out at the last minute to hunt boar or help the rajah dispose of his enemies. Action scenes, when they arrive, are expertly detailed, with Mallinson describing battlefield tactics and military uniforms down to the button.
The author’s love of 19th-century detail almost buries what should be a vivid adventure tale. Like the wines his characters so frequently quaff, though, this series will improve with age.