Like so many crime writers, my first love was Sherlock Holmes. My second love was Harry Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser’s caddish soldier who capers through Victorian history in the most reprehensible fashion. The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy was inspired by these early loves. My hero, Wiggins, started his life in the very first Sherlock Holmes story – A Study In Scarlet – as the child leader of a gang of street urchins, used as ‘irregulars’ by Holmes, to look for people. In the same way that MacDonald Fraser took Flashman from Tom Brown’s Schooldays, so I decided to ‘grow up’ Wiggins and place him in the real world. It’s an oft repeated cliché that writing – that artistic endeavour in general – is not so much inspiration as perspiration, and while this is true about so much of the work, the idea of Wiggins becoming involved in the real life embryonic Secret Service did come to me fully formed in a moment. 2009 saw a rash of publications marking the 100th anniversary of the Secret Service. And later that year, I was doing some film work on spy films in general – another (later) love – when I thought: surely Wiggins, thirtyish in 1909, could be one of the greatest ever agents. Born on the streets, sharp as a tack, and taught by the very best.
Then came the work: I wanted the history of London 1909 to be as real as possible, I wanted to be faithful to the Holmes canon and, perhaps most of all, I wanted to see a hero who wasn’t one of the ‘haves’, a secret agent who wasn’t an officer and a gentleman. And turning the circle back round, like so many original Holmes stories themselves, I wanted to write something that was fast, fun and thrilling.
The Irregular by H.B. Lyle is published in hardback and eBook on 18th May by Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99