Allan Mallinson
A Close Run Thing

Allan Mallinson wastes no time getting the reader into the thick of things: by page 2 of this novel, set during the Napoleonic wars, protagonist Coronet Matthew Hervey of the 6th Light Dragoons is up to his neck in battle and blood. By page 8, he's on his way to a court martial, the result of his own hasty temper and the politics of the military. Though the young soldier's career is never in serious danger, Mallinson uses the episode effectively to make a point about 19th-century military life: Anyone who thought that survival in this war depended merely on fighting the enemy was na�ve in the extreme. Jealousy, snobbery, intrigue, and patronage were the preoccupations of men of ambition in the Marquess of Wellington's army; and Hervey and others like him, decent officers with little but the ability to recommend them, were increasingly resentful of Wellington's indifference to it all. Indeed, many believed he actively connived at it. Politics and infighting within the ranks are, indeed, important elements in A Close Run Thing, which follows the fortunes of young Matthew Hervey, his regiment, and Wellington's army through the last year of the Napoleonic wars. What makes the novel so fascinating is that the most dangerous enemies are seldom the ones being fought on the battlefield. There are the villains--General "Black Jack" Slade, for example, "as incompetent an officer as was ever placed in command of a brigade of cavalry"; and to a lesser degree, Wellington himself, who seems indifferent to the system of patronage that kept people like Slade in positions of power. And there are the heroes--Hervey and his commanding officer, Major Joseph Edmonds, among others. As war's fortunes take them from France to Ireland and back again to the continent and an insignificant Belgian village called Waterloo, Mallinson paints a vivid portrait not only of military life but of the European political milieu. In his note at the beginning of A Close Run Thing, Mallinson writes that he's long been a fan of Patrick O'Brian 's naval fictions set during the Napoleonic wars and that he "began to fret for anything remotely comparable for the cavalry of that period." Though one might wish Matthew Hervey had been more fully developed as a character, � la O'Brian's Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, Mallinson writes a battlefield scene with the same brio and encyclopedic knowledge that O'Brian brings to his engagements at sea. From the details of charging a French battery of guns to the peculiar ailments of a cavalry horse, Mallinson, himself a serving officer in a British cavalry regiment, knows his subject inside and out. This is a book sure to appeal to military-history buffs and readers looking for a ripping good adventure tale alike. --Alix Wilber

Pages: 528

Published: April 22, 2008

Price: 180THB