Clarion House Professional Review of Legends of the Dragonfly

Jungle Fort Batang Berjuntai 1952
Gloria and her daughter Rofina 1948
Cherita Zaman Dahula means a Story of Old Times One of five journals my father left behind over 30 years ago

Legends of the Dragonfly: Fighting the Communists During the Malaya Emergency, 1947-1960
Vincent Hancock Author House UK (Aug 26, 2020) Softcover $20.99 (274pp)
ISBN: 978-1-72835-611-2
Legends of the Dragonfly is an uncensored, exciting soldier’s biography that’s centered in a period of Malayan conflict.Vincent Hancock’s gripping biography of his father, Rex, Legends of the Dragonfly, concentrates on Rex’s military service in Malaya.The Malayan Emergency lasted for thirteen years, and this soldier’s account of it opens with a riveting scene: Rex’s boat has just been sunk after a Dutch naval ambush. His friend and business partner’s boat has also been ambushed; it is later captured by Indonesian communist insurgents. Rex is seen executing a daring rescue mission, saving his friend from torture and imminent death.

This title includes thorough background information to help understand the conflict at its center, including about the state of the British Empire during the time, and about the political and socioeconomic conditions of British Malaya. It argues that the Indigenous Malay people preferred British rule over that of communists who wanted to take control of Malaya through armed struggles and violence.Rex’s exploits are better understood in this context, and they include tributes to the Malayan people who fought against communist bandits with soldiers like him. Rex’s strategic leadership and bravery are a point of focus, too: he is memorialized for his service as part of the British Security Forces, where his forward thinking is credited with saving fellow soldiers from continuous and vicious attacks. Such attacks are gruesomely detailed: fighters are recalled for hacking people to pieces and crucifying children, resulting in a clear villains versus heroes dynamic. Excerpts from Rex’s personal journals organize the text, resulting in a chronological sense of the conflict.

Daily entries cover hard decisions, such as to kill captured communist forces, rather than hold them as prisoners; the entries justify this with reminders of the cruelties they inflicted on others, and they make for tense reading. Photographs are included to make the book even more harrowing: they depict captured communist forces surrendering, a woman who was shot in the head, and an enormous estuarine crocodile watching the photographer. Many such images are striking additions to the already intense narrative. But the book also moves beyond this violence to cover Malayan culture. Rex records information about Malayan cuisine, beliefs, and courtship and marriage traditions; such notes even extend to accounts of the animal life in Malayan jungles. And more lighthearted recollections also factor in, including of jealous and vengeful spouses. Space is made to recognize and praise the roles of the women who served in the conflict, who are depicted as courageous people whose contributions were integral to British successes. Most of these varying parts of the book are made to connect, but some have loose links to Rex’s own story, as with an account of the capture of a counterespionage operative whose ultimate purpose in Rex’s story is not made unclear. Legends of the Dragonfly is an uncensored, exciting soldier’s biography that’s centered in a period of Malayan conflict.
Professional Clarion Review
Professional rating: 4 Stars
EDITH WAIRIMU (November 20, 2020)

Clarion House Professional Review of By the Tale of the Dragonfly

Left to right: Roy (my business partner), Rex, Cecil; and Edwards
Left to right: Idris (Bugis warrior), Rex (skipper) Sulaiman and Zainal (coxwain) at Tahiti.

By the Tale of of the Dragonfly
Vincent Hancock Author House UK (July 12, 2019) Hardcover $38.99 (388 pp)
ISBN: 978-1-72839-058-1

In its inquisitive and positive accounts of world traveling, the historical novel By the Tale of the Dragonfly follows a former soldier living life on his own terms in the wake of WWII.

In Vincent Hancock’s historical novel By the Tale of the Dragonfly, an ex-pat has seafaring adventures, and makes discoveries, after World War II. The novel, based on five family journals from the postwar period, amplifies a true story with summaries, photographs, and background information. In it, Rex, who worked in Special Intelligence with the British military during the war, becomes a mercenary treasure hunter and deep-sea diver, running guns, contraband, and sometimes people around Malaysia and Indonesia.

The book’s journal format organization is loose. Each day is represented by a new entry; these, in the place of a central conflict or climax, are an easy blend of danger and delight. As often as they feature pirates, sharks, or monsoons, they also cover delicious meals, sex, and colorful vignettes from places visited. Rex is seen on a quest for personal integrity and autonomy, seeking his own moral limits and knowing that his activities are illegal and risky. Addressing his descendants, he gives advice about authority, politics, and love and passes on general life lessons. His free-form narration is an intentional counterpoint to the “rigid rat race” he fled after the war.

The book is peopled with rogues and eccentrics, including Rex’s business partner, Roy (also ex-military), who spent years as a prisoner of war. Ali, who has three wives, and Zainal, who is loyal and trustworthy, are the chief crew members on Rex’s boat. Women are present for admiring, including Rex’s housekeeper, who treats ailments with natural remedies, and a woman he marries who was the mistress of a friend. Affairs with Chinese business women arise, too. But despite all of these interactions, the book’s dialogue is minimal; Rex’s relationships are compartmentalized, in adherence with his live-and-let-live policy. Rex’s self-discovery is the main objective, and novel experiences—dolphin sightings, beautiful sunsets, underwater finds, and significant sexual encounters—are given more attention than relationships with people.

In addition to its journal entries, the book incorporates recipes, ancient and modern histories, myths, poems, and philosophical reflections, both Rex’s own and those quoted from others. Nautical terminology and foreign language terms are explained, resulting in a rich and informative portrait of seafaring life. Still, the war hangs in the background of it all: Rex has flashbacks and nightmares, and Roy has PTSD. In the places Rex visits, people express fear and loathing toward Japan, and nods to world events acknowledge that ruling parties still vie for power, while landmines and destruction dot world landscapes.

With inquisitive and positive accounts of world traveling, the historical novel By the Tale of the Dragonfly follows a former soldier who’s living life on his own terms in the wake of WWII.

Professional rating: 3 Stars
MARI CARLSON (June 30, 2020)