© 2015 Paul Fraser Collard
Jack was filled with the madness. He could feel it searing through his veins. It resonated deep in his soul, every fibre of his being tingling with the insanity of galloping against an enemy horde. The regiment raced forward, their voices roaring out as the men unleashed the cheer saved for this moment. The last yards flashed past and the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry charged into action.
Following the events of The Maharajah’s General,, in which Jack Lark’s false identity was exposed but the parties involved silenced by war, Lark is now a freewheeling rogue, keeping his distance from those who’d recognize him and pretending to be an officer on leave, free to enjoy the pleasures of cities like Bombay. Though away from the fighting, Jack can’t escape his deceit, and when he’s cornered and kidnapped by a man working for a secretive British intelligence officer known as the Devil, his career takes an interesting turn.
It’s the eve of battle in Central Asia. The once free city of Herat has been suddenly occupied by the Shah of Persia, in violation of a treaty and destabilizing the balance of power between the Empire, Persia, and Russia in the region. The army is being organized to go forth and show the flag, hoping the Shah will withdraw, but what few know is that there’s a leak: someone is keeping the Persians informed of English troop movements, and the level of fine detail means they’re in the camp itself. Rooting out rival spies is just the work for the Devil, who drafts Jack and threatens to expose him as a fraud if he doesn’t cooperate. Despite his acquired talent for deceit, Jack is more at home on the battlefield than he is fishing for information in cloak and dagger affairs.
The Devil’s Assassin is both a spy novel and a war novel, and largely successful on both ends. The running battle between the British Expeditionary Force and the Persians takes up most of the middle, as the forces engage and break off. It’s purely a cavalry affair, too, spurred on by the British need to rout the Persians before they build up their strength in the area. Although the Devil recruited Lark on his talent for disguise and pretense, a gift for subterfuge doesn’t necessarily make a good counterintelligence agent – as the Devil learns when Lark runs off on the first rumor he hears and nearly beats a man to death, so disrupting the investigation to no good effect that he and the Devil are both told to leave finding the spy or the spy ring up to naval intelligence. I’d pinned the spy fairly early on, or thought I did: there’s a little twist where the great reveal proves to still be leaving part of the story in the shadow, so while I was far closer to the target than Lark, I wasn’t quite there.
Looking ahead I see Lark has found himself in the midst of the Great Mutiny, the American Civil War, and...the....Wild....West? Obviously I’ll continue to follow!