Orakzai Pathan, Zaimukhts, Khamkannis, Sikaram and Peshawar are names that do not fall softly upon the ears of this old country boy from the deep south. Nor do they roll easily off my tongue when I attempt to speak them. If it were not for the advice of my high school algebra teacher, reading a book littered with these and other similar words would be almost impossible. He said, “Call it ‘wheelbarrow’ and keep on rolling.” And roll these stories do!
The Letter of His Orders is a collection of three novels (novellas actually) appearing in Adventure Magazine previous to World War I. Talbot Mundy penned and copyrighted these stories in 1911, and they appeared in print in 1913. Highly popular authors of the early 20th century filled the pages of what would later become a wildly popular periodical referred to by Time as the “number one pulp” magazine of the era.
Gerry Conway has written an interesting introduction that, like a Wagnerian siren, lures the reader quickly into the first story, “The Guzzler’s Grand Prix.” Some readers will remember Conway as the creator of several comic book characters including “The Punisher” and others will be more familiar with his work as a script writer for television’s Law and Order (among many television shows he wrote for).
Conway’s interest in Mundy’s work began with the Greek warrior Tros of Samothrace, a creation of the author who writes in this collection of the men who do the work of the British Empire in exotic lands.
In the first tale, the grand prix is a horse race; it details the adventures of two loyal soldiers and how they continue to support their commanding officer even while on leave. Mundy, an adventure-lover’s writer “par excellence” demonstrates that he can display a depth of emotions in his male characters that includes love and devotion to the opposite sex.
“Hookum Hai” is the next story and precedes the eponymously titled closer with a tale of what initially seems like blind trust by a soldier for his commanders. The title is translated to “it is ordered” and is certainly appropriate for Sergeant Brown who reminds this writer of “Rowan,” the hero in “A Message to Garcia” by Elbert Hubbard. Brown also shares some admirable traits with the protagonist in the final story, “Letter of His Orders.” Roderick, a young civil servant (non-military) eager to prove himself accepts an assignment in the hill country of northern Pakistan. Not knowing who is trustworthy, he manages to obey his orders and accomplish his mission by applying good judgment, sound reasoning, and chutzpah.
The setting for all three stories is in or near British military engagements in the years just before The Great War. This reviewer had to search his memory to find a writer comparable to Talbot Mundy and could only come up with Truman Capote. Mundy’s thoughtfully constructed writings are a pleasure to read and enjoy. His prose has a poetic quality that urges the reader to pursue more of his works and perhaps read these again and again. The Letter of His Orders is illustrated by Walter M. Baumhofer and is available from Black Dog Books.