Somehow, the works of Anthony Conway had escaped my notice until just a few days ago. Now, thanks to the magic of the Kindle, I’m totally immersed in the adventures of John Caspasian in various hinterlands of the British Empire in the wake of the Great War. The first “Caspasian Novel” — The Viceroy’s Captain — is set on the North West Frontier in the 1920s. The set-up is pure pulp, delivered with strong writing and verisimilitude that comes out of the author’s own service experience.
The Eye of the Storm is a legendary diamond, said to bring its owner control of India. Now, bandits have stolen it on its way across the border from the ruins of the Czar’s empire, with a party of Bolshevik fanatics in hot pursuit. The only way to prevent a war is to get the diamond back and Sir Oswald Masterman of the Imperial intelligence service knows the right man to do it — Captain John Caspasian of the Twelfth Gurkhas. Rebellious, insubordinate and astonishingly effective, Caspasian is glad to be off desk duty and back in action. With his hand-picked assistant, Gurkha servant Ganga Limbu, and a hand-picked arsenal of the latest automatic weapons, Caspasian sets off for Beshandu disguised as the escort for a routine tribal council.
If that sounds to my REH-aficionado friends like a slightly updated Francis X. Gordon adventure, you’d be very close to the mark.
Sure, the rebellious-but-highly-effective hero is a cliché, but Conway is a good enough writer to make Caspasian come alive. And, to be honest, that’s the kind of character I want to read about anyway, cliché or no. ALL my heroes are that kinda feller — hell, most of my friends, too, for that matter — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Gurkha connection is Conway’s own:
After training at Sandhurst (Conway) was commissioned into 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles, remaining with the Brigade of Gurkhas for twelve years. He commanded his battalion’s Mortar Platoon in the 1982 Falkands War and thereafter served in other posts both within the Brigade of Gurkhas and throughout the wider reaches of the British Army.
This is excellent adventure writing. Conway throws you into the midst of action immediately, hitting a gallop right out of the gate, then slows down to layer in character and atmosphere. He’s very strong with setting, which is one of the pleasures of good adventure fiction; it should take you to some exotic land and immerse you there.
Writing good adventure fiction is far more difficult than most folks credit. It’s got to have action, but if it’s all-action-all-the-time, it’s insubstantial. A hero is inevitably an archetype — and rendering an archetype in flesh-and-blood is a neat trick. And creating a setting that feels like a fully-realized world and not a movie set is another. Conway is up to the task. Fiction rarely grabs and holds me anymore; The Viceroy’s Captain has accomplished that increasingly difficult task. It helps that Conway is working in an era that has become my historical home — an early 20th Century where there are still wild frontiers. There are so many fantastic tales to be told from that era, and so many tensions between the modern and the traditional to employ to dramatic effect.
I’ve read the free samples of the rest of the books, and it looks like the series really holds up. I’m downloading them all. And Conway has started a new series set during the Great War. I read the sample of that one, too, and I have to tell you that anyone who can hold my attention with a fresh and immediate description of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand — which I have explored at some depth — is doing a damn good job.
I’m looking forward to following John Caspasian’s career from India to Egypt to China to British Guyana. I reckon some of you will enjoy it, too.