Sir Mumphrey Wilton and the Lost City of Mystery by I.A. Watson, Chillwater Press, p/b, £8.89/Kindle, £1.90, Website
Reviewed by Dave Brzeski
“Saturday matinee cliffhanger adventure meets weird science,” proclaims the cover. I certainly couldn’t come up with a better single-sentence description. Let me be up front about this… I loved this book!
Sir Mumphrey Wilton is a classic British hero—a sort of amalgam of John Steed, Adam Adamant and the Scarlet Pimpernel, with a good bit of Indiana Jones and James Bond thrown in for good measure. Like Adam Adamant, he’s a Victorian adventurer, still active well beyond his natural lifespan. This novel is set during World War Two, but one is led to assume that Sir Mumphrey is likely still out there, somewhere, doing what he does.
Not only is Sir Mumphrey an agent of the Crown, working to stymie the evil plans of the Third Reich, but he is the keeper of a powerful cosmic artefact, in the form of a pocketwatch, with the power to manipulate time—albeit only in a limited, localised manner. It isn’t a time travel machine by any means.
No hero would be complete without a sidekick, a romantic interest and a damsel in distress. All three roles are ably filled by Miss Marjorie Canterbury, vicar’s daughter. Miss Canterbury’s father has been murdered, and she finds herself the target of evil influences. It would be inaccurate to suggest that her only role in the story was that of a victim, though. She saves Sir Mumphrey’s life at least as often as he saves hers.
As well as Nazis, we have vampires, zombies (real ones, not the flesh-eating variety), talking apes and ancient aliens, who used to rule the Earth. There is reference to the Mi-Go, but as the alternative term for Yeti, rather than Yuggothian Fungi. If I were to single out one author as a possible influence, it would be Philip José Farmer, although, I’ve since discovered that Ian A. Watson has never actually read any of that grand master’s work.
Each chapter of the book is set out in the style of a classic movie serial, with cliffhangers and “don’t miss the next episode” blurbs. For a while, I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t reading a collected version of a previously serialised work, but that apparently isn’t the case.
As is typical of Ian Watson (not to be confused with the science fiction writer of the same name, which is why he writes as I.A. Watson) much research has been done. Places and dates all tally with events in the real world, and there are many footnotes to clarify such matters. The author has also made a valiant effort to make life easy for readers less familiar with the slang and speech patterns of Victorian English gentlemen, with definitions supplied for any obscure phraseology.
I’m very pleased to note that there’s already another novel from the same publisher—‘The Transdimensional Travel Company’—which is set in the same universe, but in the present day. It doesn’t, apparently feature Sir Mumphrey, but I’m sure he’ll be back at some point. It would be a dashed shame if he weren’t, what?