Bayonets Across the Border

Written by John Wilcox
Review by Nancy Henshaw

The tribes are gathering, putting aside intertribal feuding to take on a worthier foe, the British Empire at the peak of its power. The Pathan Revolt in its thousands assembles, at home in inhospitable mountain territory, and fearless, even welcoming death under inspiration of their leader: the mullah Sayid Akbar, charismatic, ruthless and cruel, clever in planning, quick-witted in action. Everything is apparently in his favour if he can succeed before the irresistible weight of the mighty British Army can be brought to bear.

But the mullah’s enemy, so far pitifully small in number, has some remarkable people: Simon Fonthill, a veteran of many famous campaigns, cool, brave, intelligent, compassionate, hardy; his dauntless wife, Alice, who is a journalist accustomed to warfare; and two trusted comrades: Jenkins ‘352’, a fierce Welsh crack shot, and daffadar Inderjit Singh, a misleadingly harmless infiltrator. Plus those most glamorous of the Empire’s fighting men: Queen Victoria’s Corps of Guides.

A story told in a style both pacy and superbly detailed, there are thrills throughout, and the vital importance of the appropriate weapon in each implacably dangerous situation is demonstrated to satisfy even the most knowledgeable reader. Near starvation, sudden and slow death, poisoned wounds, threat of torture (at worst in the hands of the tribal women) – this novel has something for everyone.