Fire Across the Veldt

Written by John Wilcox
Review by Neville Firman

This is another book in the Simon Fonthill series, but with one important difference. Fonthill usually prefers to work for the army as a scout or undercover agent without actually being a member of it. This means that he can operate outside the framework of army discipline, which he loathes. This attitude, as those who are familiar with the series will know, stems from his experiences as a young officer. But in this book, set in the Boer War, he is required to officially join the army, as is his side-kick, 352 Jenkins, so called because of the prevalence of men named Jenkins in the Welsh regiment of which, along with Fonthill, he was originally a member. However, Fonthill is able to evade the constraints of army discipline by forming his own regiment, Fonthill’s Horse. And, wait for it, 352, who has always been the bane of sergeant-majors, becomes its Regimental Sergeant-Major. The idea of course is that such a regiment will be able to use unconventional methods in tracking down the elusive Boers.

The main strength of the book is its description of the Boer War itself and of how those hardy Afrikaner farmers were able to give the British military the slip by exploiting their knowledge of the Veldt. There are good descriptions of the main protagonists, including Kitchener and the Boer leader Botha. There is also an interesting portrait of Emily Hobhouse, who exposed the concentration camps (at the time the word was not pejorative) in which the families of the Boars were held. Alice, Fonthill’s wife, who unusually for a woman at the time, is a journalist, meets and interviews Hobhouse. For the rest, the novel, with its scenes of action and adventurous soldiering, should leave lovers of the Fonthill series, of which I am one, well satisfied.