Microbes of Power – deadly espionage in Cyprus 1937

Microbes of Power- Alexander Wilson's sixth Secret Service novel published in 1937. Image: Allison and Busby.
Microbes of Power- Alexander Wilson’s sixth Secret Service novel published in 1937. Image: Allison and Busby.

“Microbes of Power” is a pioneering espionage novel analysing the threat to world peace posed by biological weapons.

It was unique in the Secret Service thriller genre of the 1930s to explore the threat posed by using bacteria and viruses in war.

The novel also stood out for offering positive representation of women intelligence agents on the front line of risk and danger.

There are signs of Alexander Wilson avoiding the cultural trope of male writers at that time who tended to characterise women with hysterical sensibility always depending on the help, leadership and command of men.

The blurb on the cover of the book’s first publication by Herbert Jenkins in 1937:

What This Story Is About

    In this stirring drama Sir Leonard Wallace, Chief of the British Secret Service, the idol of his subordinates and the terror of his enemies, again takes the centre of the stage.

    Major Wilson is never happier than when he is retailing the activities of Sir Leonard, and in this novel he has, in our opinion, surpassed all his previous achievements. The critic who described the last Wallace yarn as “the essence of excitement” will have to concentrate on coining a phrase even more telling when he turns his attention to Microbes of Power. For undiluted excitement the Wilson-Wallace combination stands supreme.

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Allison and Busby re-published ‘Microbes of Power in September 2015 and described the novel as:

A full-blooded, stirring yarn which grips the interest and carries the reader through a host of adventures to a breathless and highly exciting climax. This is a yarn told in the true Wallace tradition and Major Wilson is to be congratulated on maintaining the same atmosphere of quick-fire action.

On its original publication in 1937 the Liverpool Daily Post said ‘Microbes of Power’ was:

A very competently constructed book with a pleasantly exciting and entertaining story of adventures and thrills.

In June 1937 the Daily Mirror conferred a ‘Good’ rating for Wilson’s Leonard Wallace thriller Microbes of Power and described it as an:

Exciting thriller about British and foreign spies and Secret Service agents who are the last word in heroism.

On the 3rd of August 1937 The Gloucester Citizen published a full review of the novel titled ‘A Secret Service Yarn’:

The Secret Service is a fertile source of inspiration for thriller writers, and Alexander Wilson in “Microbes of Power” (Microbes of Power 7/6) paints for us a picture of possibilities for a future war, when some ruthless power may utilise the  myriads of disease germs to cripple a rival nation.

Certainly in this yarn,  when Sir Leonard Wallace, Head of the British Secret Service, and his subordinates get on the track of obscure events in Cyprus , they did not think they were being led up to a gigantic conspiracy to lay the world in ruins. The narrative is couched in the most exciting vein, with unexpected twists to the theme. It is hackneyed to say that it is impossible to put such a book down, but this only comes into this class. Adventures and death build up to a terrific climax in a burning house , and he will be a very exacting reader who does not get his money’s worth out of “Microbes of Power.”

 

A Pathe film on life in Cyprus during the time of the events depicted in ‘Microbes of Power.

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Extract Chapter One:

A Report From Cyprus (pages 8-10 of the Allison and Busby edition)

‘Good morning, Maddison. Glorious weather, isn’t it?’
The speaker, tall, upright, and essentially military-looking, passed into his office followed by the grey-haired, keen-eyed man who had unlocked the door for him.
‘Beautiful, sir,’ responded the latter. ‘I hope you had a pleasant weekend.’
‘It was delightful. Possibly the fact that it was the first real weekend I have had for a couple of months helped it to be more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been, but I revelled in every moment of it. The country is wonderful just now. I must confess to a weakness for primroses, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them growing in such profusion. Wasn’t it Browning who wrote, “Oh, to be in England now that April’s here”?’

‘I believe it was, sir,’ smiled Maddison, ‘though Cousins is the authority on that sort of thing.’

Major Brien’s blue eyes twinkled, he ran his fingers through his fair hair, settled his jacket more comfortably to his shoulders.

‘Weather like this is calculated to make him lyrical,’ he remarked. ‘If he is experiencing it in the United States, I can imagine him bubbling over with appropriate quotations. And now for work.’ He glanced at his desk, made a little grimace at the heap of documents neatly piled in the centre. ‘You don’t spare me, Maddison, do you?’ he grunted. ‘If you had a kind heart, you would break me in gradually after a weekend spent trying to forget delicate international situations, foreign intrigues, diplomatic imbroglios, and that sort of thing.’

‘I have dealt with the majority of the reports, sir,’ the other assured him. ‘You will not find more than three, possibly four, that require much attention.’

‘Well, that’s a relief. I must confess I feel very Mondayish.’

He sat down at the large desk; filled and lit his pipe; then, with Maddison standing by his side like a guardian angel, proceeded to go diligently through the mass of documents. Most of them had marginal notes in the calligraphy of his chief assistant, which he read carefully. In some cases he commented upon them, or asked questions, invariably signifying his approval, and appending his initials. Three were without any annotations. These were placed on one side until the bulk had been dealt with. Brien then drew them before him one by one, reading them carefully and, every now and again, sitting back in his chair, and entering into a discussion with Maddison on some knotty point. At length he made a decision concerning two of them.

‘It may turn out,’ he pronounced, ‘that there is some connection between these affairs. It would be as well if we learn something more definite before putting the matter to Sir Leonard. Is Cartright available?’

‘Yes, sir.’
‘Very good. Send him to Copenhagen and Brussels, with instructions to investigate the reports and ascertain, if possible, what relation exists between the two affairs. There are so many points of resemblance that I feel convinced there is a connection. He can fly to Brussels this afternoon, and go on to Copenhagen tomorrow. All being well, he should be able to get back on Wednesday evening. Now for this Cyprus business.’

'Microbes of Power' Old and New. From 1937 to 2015. Image: Copyright The Alexander Wilson Estate.
‘Microbes of Power’ Old and New. From 1937 to 2015. Image: Copyright The Alexander Wilson Estate.

He read again the decoded report from the Secret Service agent in Nicosia. It appeared to give him a considerable amount of thought for, after he had gone through it for the third time, and had assimilated the information contained therein, he sat back in his chair stroking his moustache and frowning, as though puzzled.

‘What do you make of it?’ he asked Maddison at length.

‘It is difficult to say, sir,’ was the reply. ‘There seems so very little to go on. On the face of it there is no reason why Plasiras and Bikelas should not visit Cyprus. We know they have many friends there. It is significant, though, that such an effusive welcome should have been accorded them in the light of their present relations with the Greek government, and that their arrival should have been followed by a sense of excitement among the Cypriots. If you remember, there was noticeably a certain amount of unsettlement after their last visit in November.’

‘Ah! That’s just the point that has occurred to me. We did not take very much notice then, attributing it to the fact that the Greek part of the population was sympathetic with their aspirations. But they failed to overthrow the government in Athens, and everything seemed to have settled down, just as it did after Venizelos failed. Now it looks as though—’ He rose to his feet. ‘This,’ he announced, ‘is decidedly an affair in which the chief will be interested. He will probably send someone out. At all events, I’ll see him at once.’ He took up the report under discussion, nodding at those with which he had dealt. ‘You can carry on with that little lot, Maddison, and tell Cartright to see me before he leaves for Brussels.’

He walked along to the office of Sir Leonard Wallace and, knocking, entered to find his chief standing with his back to the fireplace, puffing placidly at his pipe, his hands in the pockets of his immaculate lounge jacket, his whole air denoting thorough ease, if not entire repose.

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'Microbes of Power' was serialised in Australia in a story magazine called 'The Broadcaster' Image: Advert from West Australian Perth.
‘Microbes of Power’ was serialised in Australia in a story magazine called ‘The Broadcaster’ Image: Advert from West Australian Perth.
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