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A Close Run Thing: A Novel of Wellington's Army of 1815


In the tradition of Patrick O'Brian's beloved historical military adventures comes the first in a dashing new series featuring Cornet Matthew Hervey, a young cavalry officer in Wellington's army of 1815.   A Close Run Thing

For two decades, since the French Revolution, England and her allies have fought a seemingly endless war to loosen Bonaparte's stranglehold on Europe. Matthew Hervey, a twenty-three-year-old parson's son, has risen...

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In the tradition of Patrick O'Brian's beloved historical military adventures comes the first in a dashing new series featuring Cornet Matthew Hervey, a young cavalry officer in Wellington's army of 1815.   A Close Run Thing

For two decades, since the French Revolution, England and her allies have fought a seemingly endless war to loosen Bonaparte's stranglehold on Europe. Matthew Hervey, a twenty-three-year-old parson's son, has risen through the ranks of His Majesty's cavalry to a junior command in the 6th Light Dragoons.

Torn by ambition and ensnared in the intrigues of Wellington's army, Matthew struggles to shape his destiny, but his efforts are about to be cast to the winds of fate. For amid the clash of armies, he will find himself a catalyst in the battle of the century...near the small Belgian village of Waterloo.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Of recent years many eminent hands have undertaken to lead the reader deep into the Royal Navy of Nelson's time, describing the life of the service, the men who sailed those 'far-distant, storm-beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army never looked' but which 'stood between it and the dominion of the world.'

"Hitherto nobody that I know of has done anything like the same for the army, which did after all have a not inconsiderable share in winning the war; but now at last a highly literate, deeply read cavalry officer of high rank shows one the nature of horse-borne warfare in those times; and Colonel Mallinson's A Close Run Thing is very much to be welcomed."
--Patrick O'Brian, author of the Aubrey-Maturin series

"Mallinson's A Close Run Thing is an astonishingly impressive debut in the field of Napoleonic fiction. Convincingly drawn, perfectly paced and expertly written, this cavalryman's tale is a joy to read. I hope it will be the first of many."
--Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Intrepid cavalry officer Cornet Matthew Hervey rises through the Duke of Wellington's forces, moves through British and Irish society and helps the U.K. win the Napoleonic Wars in this first of a projected series by a British writer. Hervey's story begins in 1814, with Napoleon's defeat. Hervey narrowly escapes a court martial for impetuous, albeit brave, action in the Peninsular Campaign against the French, and is invited to purchase his lieutenancy. He returns to Britain, rekindles his affections for his childhood sweetheart, and is posted to Ireland: there he explores the country's religious strife, rides horses and reads Pride and Prejudice. But when Bonaparte escapes from Elba and raises a new army for a rematch with Wellington, Hervey's dragoons must return to war. In the battle of Waterloo, Hervey so distinguishes himself that he is again promoted and ready to carry on his derring-do in the next volume. Hervey's exploits would make a good adventure story, but Mallinson hasn't quite written one. Instead, the novel enshrines his knowledge of the period: it's full of historical data that buffs will recognize, and consequently is rather slow-moving. Mallinson's acknowledged debt to Patrick O'Brian, and his decision to emulate Austen's prose style in describing her era, serve his story poorly. None of the characters converse; they make speeches. Except for Hervey, none develops beyond a name and, occasionally, a dialect. The brutality of combat remains offstage until the end; even there the Battle of Waterloo seems recounted more than shown. Mallinson (author of the nonfiction Light Dragoons, published in the U.K., and himself a real-life officer in the British cavalry) has loaded each chapter with details of politics, geography, economics, diet, firearms, uniforms, horsemanship, courtship, huntsmanship and even ceremonial headgear. These minutiae mix with period idioms, cultural references and scholarly glosses to make the book feel at times like a study guide for an exam. Even so, this first installment of Hervey's travels will entertain the well-educated, and delight amateur historians. Readers seeking action can look to the future: Mallinson reveals real promise whenever he stops trying to demonstrate the breadth of his research and simply tells Hervey's story. (June) FYI: Mallinson was recently appointed military attach for the British embassy in Rome. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Pompous oafs, a sly heiress, and a beguiling nun prove just as challenging as battlefield perils to a British cornet who plays a decisive role in Wellington's defeat of Napoleon. Mallinson, a British cavalry officer with an impressive knowledge of spontoons, snaffles, and other minor arcana of 19th-century combat, offers an extremely detailed, alternatively violent and romantic first novel in a land-based, sword-and-horseflesh companion to Patrick O'Brian's seafaring Aubrey-Maturin series. Hero Matthew Hervey is 23 when we meet him in 1814, one year before Waterloo, on the battlefield in southern France. The highly educated, polyglot son of a parson with vague connections to royalty has just bravely slaughtered a French gunnery patrol, yet has made the mistake of embarrassing a superior officer, General "Black Jack" Slade. Sister Maria, a gorgeous Carmelite nun who's the daughter of a French count, rebandages Hervey's wounded leg, then entrusts him with her father's ring and a pack of letters to deliver to her ancestral home. With Napoleon abdicating, and the delivery accomplished, Hervey returns to England, where Lady Henrietta Lindsay, an old childhood friend, teases him about matrimony with obscure references to Jane Austen novels. He moves with his regiment to Ireland, where he gets in trouble by defending kindly peasants against corrupt British land agents. Lady Henrietta uses her titled connections to save Hervey from Slade's wrath just in time for the regiment to rush back to the Continent, where Hervey finds himself included in strategy-planning sessions with the stalwart Duke of Wellington, who sends him on a secret mission to contact Prussian forces. After this somewhatwooden, overly chatty adventure, Wellington appoints Hervey as his aide-de-camp, with another mission in store. Some saddle sores from Mallinson's affection for 19th-century turns of phrase, but, on the whole, a rousing, chastely nostalgic tale of valiant heroism and dashing derring-do.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553380439
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/1/2000
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 324
  • Sales rank: 875,855
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

"Stirring...stimulating...entertaining...a richness of detail."
-USA Today

"Now at last a highly literate, deeply read cavalry officer of high rank shows one the nature of horse-borne warfare....Colonel Mallinson's a close run thing is very much to be welcomed."
-Patrick O'Brian author of the Aubrey-Maturin series

"An astonishingly impressive debut in the field of Napoleonic fiction. Convincingly drawn, perfectly paced, and expertly written, this cavalryman's tale is a joy to read."
-Anthony Beevor, author of Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege

"A rousing...tale of valiant heroism and dashing derring-do."
-Kirkus Reviews

"Mallinson expertly captures both the glory and the gore of the battlefield in this sweeping saga.... An exciting historical adventure steeped in authentic military detail."

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Read an Excerpt

Britain had persevered in war with revolutionary France, with but one short break, since 1793.  The Royal Navy, at Aboukir in 1798 and Trafalgar in 1805, had confined Bonaparte to Europe; British money had financed the allies when they were ready to come forward; and a British army in the Iberian peninsula had, from 1809, maintained a front which had drained French resources and given hope to other Europeans.  By the beginning of 1814, Bonaparte could defend only France.  Russian, Prussian, and Austrian armies were closing in from the east, while the British, already in the Pyrenees, stood ready to invade from the southwest.

Chapter 1: In the Heat of Battle

The Convent of St. Mary of Magdala, Toulouse, April 12, 1814

"It is a very singular thing indeed, Mr. Hervey, for a cornet to be placed in arrest upon the field of battle."

Joseph Edmonds was deploying all his considerable facility with words in order to convey the gravity of the matter at hand.

"Tell me, if you please, precisely and dispassionately, the circumstances by which this was brought about."

Cornet Hervey stood rigidly to attention before the major's desk, his left hand clasping the sword scabbard to his side, his right hand clenched with the thumb pointing downward along the double yellow stripe of his overalls. His eyes were set front, and filling the limited arc of their fixed gaze were two symbols which, while if not to his mind entirely contradictory, in their juxtaposition seemed somehow incongruous. For on the wall behind the desk was a large wooden cross with a painted figure of the crucified Christ. Next to it--perhaps even leaning against it--was the regimental guidon, a piece of red silk on a beechwood staff, its richly embroidered battle honors still resplendent despite the staining and fading. The irony, that he had been raised in a household whose world was shaped by the first symbol, and had then elected to throw himself wholeheartedly behind the second, was not lost on him even at this exigent moment. He had little imagined such a convergence, however, nor its place--a nunnery hastily and rudely requisitioned for the purposes of the military. He drew in a deep breath, his stomach feeling tighter than ever it had done when he had been awaiting combat, and began the recollection of the events which had brought him now before his commanding officer.

"Sir, yesterday forenoon I was in command of the flank picket, as you had placed me, one-quarter of a league to the west of our lines of attack upon this city. . . ."

The fateful encounter with authority had begun spectacularly. Edmonds had not expected any affair on the left flank. Not that that was why he had entrusted the picket to Hervey: he had long been of the conviction that the worst that could happen in battle usually did (and as a consequence he had never been wrong footed--at least, that is, in the field), and Hervey and his standing patrol were a trusty yet economical insurance.

Hervey had disposed his command, a half troop (by the Sixth's depleted muster scarcely two dozen men), in the dead ground to the rear of a shallow ridge running obliquely to the army's front. They were dismounted and standing easy. Posted as vidette a furlong to their front, with a view into the valley beyond the ridge, was his picket serjeant. And it was the sudden animation in that sentinel that alerted Hervey now.

"Mount!" he called, and his troopers began tightening girths before springing back into their saddles. Without an order the contact man-- the picket corporal--galloped off to Serjeant Armstrong, who had by now worked his way in cover along the ridge and farther to the flank.

Five minutes passed before the corporal returned, with intelligence that thrilled through the ranks: "Sir, there is a horse battery, six guns, approaching."

"And supports?" pressed Hervey.

"None observed, sir."

"None? No supports? That is not possible!"

"Serjeant Armstrong says there are none within the mile as he can see, sir."

Hervey could scarce believe it. But, supports or no, it would still be David and Goliath if the guns came into action before they could close with them. He hesitated not another second and took the patrol in a brisk hand gallop toward Armstrong. As they broached the ridge he held them up and edged forward with just his covering corporal to where Serjeant Armstrong was crouching in the saddle to observe over the bracken.

"They've halted, sir, just this minute," said the serjeant in his melodious Tyneside.

"Whyever do you suppose they have stopped there?" asked Hervey, peering through his telescope.

"Can't make it out at all," Armstrong replied.

They both watched the battery, halted in the valley two full furlongs away, eager to know in which direction it would next move. Armstrong thought it must turn about; Hervey was sure it would wheel left and run parallel to the ridge. Suddenly both their predictions were confounded: the French began dismounting to unlimber the guns.

Hervey's reaction was instinctive: "Draw swords! Charge!" he cried, ramming the telescope into its saddle holster and digging his spurs into his mare's flanks.

His troopers took off after him as eager as greyhounds springing a hare, but Hervey would not check his pace for the sake of dressing: he was a dozen lengths clear of the front rank by the time they were halfway to the battery, only his covering corporal within challenging distance. The French, who had seen them the instant they crested the ridge, were now frantically ramming charges down the barrels of the eight-pounders, the limbers racing back whence they had come. At a hundred yards Hervey stretched his sword arm fully to the engage and fixed on the narrow gap between the center guns. Not one had managed to load with canister by the time the troopers fell on them. In a panic two guns were fired with charges only, adding smoke to the confusion but nothing more injurious than the deafening reports. Had the gunners taken up sidearms instead, they might have inflicted some damage, but it was too late now. Hervey slashed at the battery commander as the Frenchman belatedly reached for his pistol, and the officer fell from his horse screaming, his arm all but severed at the shoulder. Hervey galloped on to the limbers, which were making heavy weather of crossing a half-sunken track (the guns were no immediate threat now and could wait--the limbers and teams would not). They showed no sign of yielding as Hervey made for the lead team, and he glanced behind to see who was with him. More than a dozen, and he could see Serjeant Armstrong still at the guns. It would do.

If only the drivers had yielded. Then they could have been made prisoner, or even set free. But no, they tried to run. In panic, or in duty to the teams? There was no time to care, even had there been time to think. Hervey pointed rather than cut at the lead driver, using his forward momentum to take the blade halfway to the hilt in the Frenchman's side. He followed through as if at sword drill in camp, effortlessly recovering the saber to set about the wheeler drivers in the same fashion. Behind him it was the same, his dragoons doing swift execution. And then they cut the traces to set loose the teams, and began driving them back toward the British lines.

Still the fight was not gone from the battery, and small-arms fire (albeit ragged) began at the guns. Hervey galloped at once to the relief of Serjeant Armstrong and his half-dozen prizetakers, but the firing was ended by the time he came up. "Start spiking, then, Serjeant Armstrong," he called, "and fire the limbers."

"Aye, sir," Armstrong replied grimly. "Jesus, but some of these bastards were a time dying!"

Hervey sheathed his saber and leaned forward in the saddle to adjust the breastplate, which had somehow twisted. In that instant a bombardier sprang from beneath one of the guns and thrust a spontoon in his thigh. Hervey's covering corporal leaped from his horse and launched so ferocious an assault that the Frenchman had no time to parry the downward swordstroke. It cleaved his skull in two, and blood bubbled like a spring for a full minute where the body lay twitching. Armstrong rushed to support Hervey in the saddle.

"Leave go," he said sharply, angry with himself for the lapse of alertness that was costing so much pain to body and pride.

Corporal Collins spluttered an apology.

"Don't be a fool, man," snapped Hervey, gripping the gash hard. "I'm not a greenhead. For heaven's sake, Serjeant Armstrong, let's get these guns spiked and then back to our post before worse arrives."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2008

    A Patrick O'Brian for the Cavalry

    As the publisher reviews point out, Colonel Mallinson provides his stories with rich detail comparable to Patrick O'Brian's series on naval warfare. While I have never read any of O'Brian's work, I thoroughly enjoyed this tale because the detail transports the reader back to the era. The story is bolstered by the characters that are also richly developed, and as historical novels go, I would compare the author with our own Shaara's. Matthew Hervey is a compelling protagonist and an outstanding officer of cavalry too. This story is the first in Mallinson's series featuring him serving in military escapades throughout the British Empire in the early 19th century. This story takes place before and during the Battle of Waterloo. Viewing the fight primarily from Hervey's perspective, the reader can gain a good understanding of the tactics used, and the emotions & fears of those in the battle. It helped me better understand a battle that I had only had a cursory knowledge of before. I am sure that a literary critic can find many faults with it, but a fan of military history should enjoy it and perhaps learn quite a bit from it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2000

    A new hero

    Living in Europe has it's advantages, sometimes. This book has been available in Paperback for several months over here. Mallinson does for the cavalry of the early 19th Century what Patrick O'Brian has done for the Royal Navy. I enjoyed this book very much. I'm looking forward to the next book, which is out in hardcover in the UK now.

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