The Guns of El Kebir

Written by John Wilcox
Review by John R. Vallely

The Victorian Empire lends itself quite easily to historical novelists willing to perform the necessary spadework in research tools to provide the setting in which their characters live. John Wilcox has certainly done so as his Simon Fonthill series enters a fifth volume with this latest offering.

Fonthill is an ex-British Army officer who tired of the restrictions of regimental duties in favor of clandestine intelligence service in several regions of the Empire. He and his hard-fighting and hard-drinking sidekick, “352” Jenkins, are tasked by Sir Garnet Wolseley with discovering the strengths and weaknesses of Colonel Arabi’s forces in an Egyptian military revolt in 1882. Fonthill’s mission is complicated by the presence of newspaper correspondent Alice Griffith. Alice, married to an injured British officer enemy of Fonthill’s, is the love of Simon’s life, but his moral code prevents him from declaring so. Frustrated love plays out against a background of the Royal Navy’s bombardment of Alexandria, several desert escapades by the two protagonists and their Egyptian helper, a deadly double agent, and the ever-resourceful Wolseley’s brilliant victory over rebel forces at Tel-el-Kebir.