EPS Review #40 - Danger My Ally

by F.A.Mitchell-Hedges, 1954, autobiography

This book opens with Hedges refusing to be thrashed at boarding school, and running off. He finally finishes school, and goes on an expedition to Norway, where one of the members dies from exposure. He wants a life of exploration, but can't find a job, so is forced to work in a stock brokerage like his father. But he gets into a big fight, and his father sends him to Canada, where he lucks into the company of some big speculators from New York (Morgan, Bache). He spends a few years playing poker with them all in Manhattan and letting them give him inside information. He realises he is trapped trying to make his "number", takes one last gamble to double his fortune to $20,000, and is about to set off to Mexico when he hears that his mother is ill and heads back to England. There he is flattered by people's respect at his relative success, goes into business, and gets married to Lilian, who will be his wife of 25 years (henceforth never mentioned again). This lasts seven years.

Then he learns that his partners are scheming to squeeze him out, so he sells all his shares, causing a crash and ruining the company. He loses house, Daimler and servants, and is left with £400. So he gives £300 to his wife and sets off to South America, by way of NYC again, this time earning some money by working for a diamond dealer. He makes more by betting against a rich drunk playing roulette in Louisiana, is nearly killed by the proprietor, but makes it to Mexico, only to be forced to work for Pancho Villa, the famous bandit! He has to shoot a few gringos in the course of robbing some trains and banks. Villa allows him to leave to fight the Germans, but Hedges is not rated to enlist, so he goes back to NYC and puts up a poor, slovenly fellow named Bronstein, who turns out to be Trotsky.

Some years later, British intelligence asks Hedges to go to Russia to spy on his old acquaintance, but he refuses. On a trip to Canada, some drunk businessmen give Hedges an orphan girl named Anne-Marie. She spends some time in boarding school, but ultimately ends up travelling on his further adventures, which are also shared by Lady Richmond Brown, who was told incorrectly that she did not have long to live. Together they find lost cities in the rainforest, become gods to the locals by the use of fireworks, all the usual things. He also becomes a super-fisherman, landing a 5,700lb sawfish, a 5,200lb manta ray, and so on. There are photographs of these, and also of the rock crystal "Skull of Doom", said to be the embodiment of all evil. "How it came into my possession I have reasons for not revealing."

Well, I enjoyed it! It may be a pack of lies, but that's my favorite kind of travel literature (Ossendowski being the paradigm). A quick web search shows a certain amount of disbelief about that crystal skull.

Martin wrote: Wow. Maybe there's more to life than investment banking?!

Andy wrote: Careening instead of career, certainly a more geographically diverse road to walk.

Tom wrote: This sounds almost exactly how I expect your autobiography will read, 35 years hence. Well, not exactly...I think your exploits will take place mostly in Asia.

Mad wrote: What happened to those swashbuckling adventure types? Do they all now go to business school, or endeavour to do the start-up thing?

David wrote: I'm cleaning my stack and just enjoyed Danger My Ally with its obligatory reference to Ossendowski, "le menteur sans honneur." Cheers.