The Passage to India

Written by Allan Mallinson
Review by Nancy Henshaw

1831, and the Reform Act extending the franchise, making its way through Parliament, is not universally popular. In the great city of Bristol, excitable protest escalates to mob rule, destructive and incendiary. Civil authority is helpless, and Colonel Matthew Hervey of the Sixth Light Dragoons is tasked with the restoration of order before the city goes up in flames. He is tough, experienced and, when necessary, ruthless. The result is a rapid restoration of order, but to command his men to draw their sabres against fellow Englishmen is no fit work for the Dragoons. Now, with a wife whose fragile health is thankfully much improved, his next mission is far more to his liking: India. It is not his first time in that country—seductive and gorgeous, now increasingly under the control of The Honourable East India Company. When a rajah’s sister seeks Hervey’s protection from a brother who has already executed most of their siblings, the Colonel grants sanctuary but needs far more information before he takes action against an alleged tyrant.

This is a finely constructed work of fiction from an author who knows just how to create and maintain a suspenseful situation, whether a ceremonial confrontation with an underlying threat of unbridled violence or a need to be silent and, if possible, invisible through seemingly trackless forest. Matthew Hervey is a heroic character with a delightful human side and a great coffee drinker; it would be fascinating if we could know how it tasted, especially with a spot of buffalo’s milk.