‘Wallace of the Secret Service’ was the first Alexander Wilson espionage novel featuring Sir Leonard Wallace and his global imperial counter-intelligence service published by Herbert Jenkins in 1933.
Such was its popularity the volume went into a second imprint in 1939.
Its success can be attributed to the structure of ten self-contained stories and adventures that could be the equivalent of a ten hour episodic television drama series.
The volume begins with a Foreword setting out a profile of Sir Leonard Wallace by a mysterious ‘C’ the appellation used by the first chief of the real Secret Intelligence Service Mansfield Smith-Cumming.
The individual stories are intensely dramatic, exciting and also journalistic as they pitch Wallace and his agents confronting the real threats to Great Britain and her Empire and the major global political personalities of the time: Stalin, Lenin and Gandhi.
Herbert Jenkins in explaining ‘What This Story Is About’ said of the book:
Alexander Wilson, in his novel, The Crimson Dacoit, showed a marked ability for story-telling which is again revealed in this book.
He tells how Sir Leonard Wallace first became attached to the Secret Service, of his encounter with the German submarines and of his adventures in Egypt, Morocco, Russia, Greece, India and Ceylon in which places he usually succeeded in unearthing excitement, sometimes with almost disastrous results.
Wallace of the Secret Service is a book for those who seek excitement in their reading, for those who prefer to visit strange lands and for those who can appreciate the courage and daring of a man who pits his wits against the cunning and treachery of notorious spies and criminals.
In 2015 Allison and Busby made the book available to contemporary readers again with re-publication and an exciting summary of the first chapter ‘Out of the land of Egypt’:
Extreme Nationalists are fighting to relinquish the British government’s power in Egypt. Secret agent Henderson, deployed to Egypt to assess the trouble, sends a coded message to say he’s on the trail of something big. But there’s been no word since.
Critical reception for the book was overwhelmingly strong throughout the English speaking world during the 1930s.
The Times Literary Supplement said:
…the novel is not merely sensational, but a genuine piece of forceful story-telling, which carries the reader into strange lands where courage and daring are to be met, even if misguided in their objects.
It is significant that in reviews such as in the Scotsman for 28th September 1933, Wilson’s work was being evaluated alongside the work of authorial superstars of that time such as Somerset Maugham’s Ah King:
Mr. Wilson has invented a first rate crime detector in Sir Leonard Wallace, of the British Secret Service. In the present volume of ten stories, the scene ranges through Egypt, Morocco, Russia, Greece, and India, wherever indeed, British interests are concerned. At one time it is the disappearance of a representative of the Service in Egypt and a murder has to be avenged; at another Sir William (sic) is engaged in tracing the whereabouts of a Prince of a friendly Power whilst sojourning at Gibraltar, and the clue of a small morocco-bound case enables his rescue to be effected. In other tales Soviet wiles are frustrated or a prominent Indian political leader is the centre-piece of the story. It is a clever volume, having the merit that it deals with events that have their counterpart in the news of recent times.
The Dundee Courier welcomed ‘Wallace of the Secret Service’ as an important and entertaining addition to the ever increasing popular genre of spy fiction:
There are ten complete stories in this book. Dangerous missions take Sir Leonard Wallace and his assistants to Egypt, Morocco, India, Russia, and other countries. Thrilling adventures and narrow escapes are plentiful.
Mysterious introduction and profile of Sir Leonard Wallace by ‘C’ in the Foreword to ‘Wallace of the Secret Service’- (pages 7-11 of the Allison and Busby edition)
In accepting the invitation to write an introduction to certain records of the career of Sir Leonard Wallace, I was actuated not so much by the friendship and admiration I feel for the famous Chief of the Intelligence Corps, as by the fact that I was luckily instrumental in obtaining his services for the department. At the time of which I write, I was Secretary of State for Home Affairs, and Sir Leonard was recuperating, after being discharged from hospital, at the tiny seaside village of Kimmeridge in Dorset. He had been badly wounded in the left arm, and, with his great friend, William Brien, also on sick leave, and his charming wife, Molly, had originally gone to Kimmeridge merely to laze about, as he himself puts it. But that astuteness of his, which since has proved of such great value to the country, enabled him to ferret out a German submarine base actually on the Dorset coast. He immediately travelled up to London, and got into communication with me through his father, the Earl of Westcliff.
The story he told was astounding, and I found the utmost difficulty in crediting it. I was in favour of putting the matter in the hands of the Intelligence Department, and also making arrangements for a force of troops and a squadron of destroyers to proceed to the spot, but Sir Leonard – he was Major Wallace then – pointed out that the Germans would be certain to get wind of the operations against them, and decamp before there was time to invest their headquarters. He declared that he believed it to be not only a submarine base but also a distributing centre from where spies were sent to all parts of Great Britain. In reply to my question concerning what he himself proposed, he put before me a plan that for sheer ingenuity and daring almost took my breath away. He asked to be given charge of the affair, with full authority to call in the aid of the coastguards and troops from Wareham, if necessary. naturally I was very reluctant, but he had impressed me so much by his obvious ability and sagacity that eventually I agreed, not without a great deal of misgiving, however.
The result was stupendous, and reads, even in the cold, official report, like a page from the chronicles of the old Greek and Trojan heroes. It is too long a story to tell here; perhaps some day it may be given to the public – I hope so, for it is quite one of his greatest exploits. Suffice it to say that, with Brien, Cecil Kendal, his brother- in-law, half a dozen troops from the camp at Wareham, and a few coastguards, he actually entered the large cave which the Germans had so ingeniously turned into a secret base and, effecting a complete surprise, captured five submarines and killed or captured their crews. not only that, but he also apprehended several spies. Unfortunately he was shot again in his damaged arm during the fight, with the result that it was later found imperative to amputate it.
In a sense his triumph was one of the greatest feats of the War, for it not only badly interfered with Germany’s submarine campaign but supplied us with a mass of information that was priceless. Major Wallace richly deserved the KCB which was conferred on him and the full rank of colonel to which he was promoted. Brien received his majority and the CMG while others, who took part in the historic exploit, were adequately rewarded.
Without an arm, Sir Leonard’s active military career received a set-back, but it was impossible for such a man to be shelved. I suggested his being attached to the Intelligence Service, a suggestion received with enthusiasm by my colleagues, and immediately acted upon. It was not long before he became head of the bureau, and his work since then has been remarkably successful, bearing always the hall-mark of that astuteness, ingenuity, coolness, and wit which have always placed him above his fellows. Major Brien returned to the front, but after the War, at Sir Leonard’s special request, was transferred to his department.
I am delighted that certain deeds are now to be chronicled and given to the public. They should prove most absorbing to people who are interested in the workings of the Secret Service. Sir Leonard himself, though not actually objecting to the publication of his achievements, would much prefer, I think, that they were lost in obscurity. He is not the man to desire fame or notoriety; rather he prefers seclusion and privacy. His chronicler has, therefore, been forced to fall back on office records and information supplied by various members of the service who, once they understood there was no objection to their divulging certain happenings, eagerly prepared the way for the publication of a few of the exploits of the chief to whom they are all devoted.
Romance and adventure are not dead while there exist men of the type of Sir Leonard Wallace. He proves that fact is stranger than fiction, and into the cold, matter-of-fact atmosphere of the twentieth century brings a flavour of daring enterprise that is reminiscent of more adventurous times. Yet to look at him you would not imagine that there were even the elements of romance and adventure in him, unless he gave you the opportunity of gazing deep into his expressive, steel-grey eyes. He is a slightly-built man of about five feet eight in height with an attractive but by no means handsome face, the curves of which show that he possesses a great sense of humour. He has an easy-going disposition, and rather gives the impression of being a man who loves to loiter his way through life. He has a cool, calculating mind, behind an unruffled exterior, which provides him with the imagination and quick perception that make him so successful in detective work. Perhaps his greatest asset is his unexcitable temperament and perfect self-control. I have known ministers of State exasperated at his nonchalance but, being no respecter of persons, that worries him not at all. I must confess to a sneaking fear that he does not always regard His Majesty’s statesmen with the respect they invariably think is their due.
Sir Leonard himself would be the first to admit that he owes a great deal to those assistants of his of whom the names of Major Brien, Cousins, Maddison, Carter and Shannon come most readily to mind. They have shared dangers and difficulties with him, or undertaken duties at his behest, which would cause the ordinary man to blench. Then there are the others of both sexes distributed throughout the world who, often carrying their lives in their hands, supply him with the information which enables Great Britain to deal with the delicate international situations which constantly arise, and combat the still frequent foreign plots. The agents, who live abroad, generally follow some harmless profession in order to cloak their real activities, but their lives are full of danger, and they know well that once unmasked their chances of avoiding long terms of imprisonment, sometimes even death, are small indeed. Then there is the enormous office staff which deals with the many documents relative to foreign intrigue and international diplomacy. This staff nowadays is directly under the orders of Major Brien, an arrangement that saves Sir Leonard Wallace a considerable amount of routine work.
It is remarkable the degree of proficiency which the Intelligence Department has attained. Every branch dovetails into the others with meticulous exactitude, and the work proceeds day and night, quietly, silently, efficiently. Few people realise what the country owes to the gallant men of this silent service. To them fame and glory seldom come, riches never. often they die shameful, inglorious deaths, honoured only by their colleagues, who mourn them mutely, unable to make public their devotion, or acknowledge them as associates. Theirs is the ideal patriotism, the love of country which takes no account of self, but is prepared to sacrifice home, family, everything for the sake of the land that gave them birth.
I do not feel that I can deal adequately with such a subject. The Secret Service has naturally far more to do with the Foreign office than any other government department, and my political activities were mostly confined to the Home office and law departments. However, as I have stated, I was associated with Sir Leonard Wallace in his first adventure, and I am honoured now to be associated, even though so insignificantly, with a volume narrating a few of his exploits.