The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy

Written by H. B. Lyle
Review by Edward James

The Irregular is an amazing mix of actual persons and events, persons and events from the author’s imagination and some from other authors’ imaginations. So we find Winston Churchill and Sherlock Holmes both playing key roles in the story. They never meet, but then they would not have got on well together.

The principal real-life character is Captain Vernon Kell, who set up the British Intelligence Service almost singlehandedly in the years before WW1 in the teeth of severe Government scepticism (thank goodness he did, or the fortunes of war might have been very different). In 1909 he is at a low point. He has lost almost all his agents, Britain’s technical secrets are leaking to Germany, and Russian anarchists are active in London. The now-retired Sherlock Holmes refers him to ‘Wiggins’, a former member of his team of ‘irregulars’ (street urchin informers). Wiggins becomes Kell’s star operative, stops the leaks, foils the anarchists and is awarded the title ‘Agent 00’. His successors are to be known as 001, 002, etc.

Wiggins may be an Edwardian James Bond, but he is from a very different social level—an orphan who has absconded from a Children’s Home—and although handsome, he is rather reticent with women. Not that he lacks female associates. He has a very expressive style of speech, although I suspect this is more 21st-century Estuarine than Edwardian Cockney.

This is a fast-moving, hugely enjoyable story with interesting characters and authentic background. and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is the first of a series, and I look forward to the sequels.