Friday, September 06, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, September 6, 2013


George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman series (Jeff Meyerson)

Anyone who has read Tom Brown’s Schooldays or seen the 1971 (or other) adaptation of the Thomas Hughes book will surely remember the odious bully Flashman, who does his best to make the hero’s life a living hell. But have you ever wondered what happened to Flashman after his expulsion from Rugby School? Well, Scottish author George MacDonald Fraser did and he made Flashman - later, unbelievably Brigadier General Sir Harry Flashman, V.C., K.C.B., K.C.I.E. the somewhat dubious anti-hero of a wonderfully entertaining twelve book series that I cannot recommend highly enough.
Fraser’s conceit is that a Watson-like box of papers has been discovered and is being serially published retailing the autobiographical adventures of the cowardly - yet wildly successful - rogue as he traveled the world in and out of the 19thCentury British Army. Each book covers a series of adventures in the rogue’s life, including his meeting with most of the important figures of the period, including Lords Raglan and Cardigan at The Charge of the Light Brigade, John Brown at Harpers Ferry, Queen Victoria (who knights him), a young Congressman named Lincoln who saves him from slave traders, and George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn.
Flashman makes no bones about his character. He is a coward who doesn’t hesitate to run away in the face of danger yet he is a wily fighter, a drinker and gambler and carouser with women (he claims to have slept with 480) who somehow manages to use his riding, shooting and linguistic skills (and yes, his skills with the ladies) to save the day and the British Empire.

Fraser clearly did a lot of research for the series, which covers various world events and famous personages between 1839 and 1894, and he portrays the period and events both vividly and (mostly) accurately. Each book has dozens of fascinating footnotes and explanatory notes that enhance your enjoyment, and if you’re at all interested in the 19th Century you could do a lot worse than reading these. It is not necessary to read the books in order, though I’d certainly recommend reading the “origin story” Flashman first. Once you get hooked on Flashy and Fraser’s marvelous style I predict you’ll want to continue with the rest of the series.
Highly recommended.

THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN, Celia Fremlin (Patti Abbott)

Louise Henderson is the mother of three, the last being a baby who cries too much, putting her into a state of constant tiredness and anxiety. Clearly she's the victim of an undiagnosed case of postpartum depression, but also...
Onto the scene comes Vera Brandon, a teacher who is eager to board in a third floor room. She is able to talk intelligently to Mark Henderson, a source of jealousy for Louise. The new boarder does not seem disturbed the infant's constant crying at all. Although she's supposedly employed, Louise begins to wonder just how often she actually leaves the house.
As Louise tiredness mounts, little things begin to go wrong, mostly issues with the baby. Much of the trouble seems to come from that quiet woman on the third floor--someone that seems vaguely familiar to nearly everyone.
Fremlin does a terrific job of giving the reader the domestic details that make this familial portrait come to life.This is a subtle mystery. At times is is funny and at other times suspenseful. And Fremlin gets nearly everything right. This was her first novel, but it seems like the work of a seasoned professional. Obviously she mined a terrain familiar to her.
Fremlin won the Edgar for THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN in 1958. She went on to write 15 more novels. I am pretty sure I read one or two of them back in the day. I will be looking for more.

Sergio Angelino, BADGE OF EVIL,Whit Masterson
Joe Barone, KING'S RANSOM, Ed McBain
Bill Crider, NIGHTMARE AGE, Frederick Pohl
Martin Edwards, THE MISSING LINK, Katherine Farrer
Curt Evans, MISCHIEF IN THE OFFING, Clifford Witting
Jeff Flugel, THE BIG BOOK OF ADVENTURE STORIES, edited by Otton Penzler
Ray Garraty, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, Patricia Highsmith
Randy Johnson, THE FORAGERS, Ben Haas
Margot Kinberg, THE SAVAGE ALTAR, Asa Larsson
Evan Lewis, AN ORCHID FOR A KILLER, Tod Hunter
Steve Lewis, MURDER GONE MINOAN, Clyde B. Clason
Todd Mason, IN SEARCH OF WONDER, Damon Knight
James Reasoner, OFF THE MANGROVE COAST, Louis L'Amour
Kelly Robinson, SOMEONE IS BLEEDING, Richard Matheson
Gerard Saylor, DR. WHO; THE MOONBASE, Kit Pedler
Ron Scheer, RICH MAN'S RANGE, John Reese
Kerrie Smith, THE GREEN MILL MURDER, Kerry Greenwood
Kevin Tipple/Patrick Ohl/Barry Ergang, STRIP FOR MURDER, Richard S. Prather
Prashant Trikannad, THE GIRL FROM SUNSET RANCH, Amy Bell Barlow
TomCat, THE POISON ORACLE, Peter Dickinson
James Winter, INSOMNIA, Stephen King, MICK JAGGER, Philip Norman


Charles Gramlich said...

I only read one of the flashman series books, when I was quite a bit younger, and didn't like the humor. Maybe now that I'm older I should try one again.

Kelly Robinson said...

I get a kick out of Flashman, though I prefer Conan Doyle's Brigadier Gerard -- both hilarious.

Thomas Hughes founded a utopian community (Rugby, named for the school) near where I live in Tennessee, as a place for British second sons to make their own way. They were meant to learn farming, but none of them were very good at it, so it fizzled out. I adore the idea of these upper-class British men and their wives in the mountains of Tennessee. Sounds like the makings of a sitcom.

The houses are still there, and the library is fantastic, exactly as it was in Hughes' day, and filled with Victorian first editions, many donated by his author friends.

Ray Garraty said...

please add my link to the list

Al Tucher said...

I love the Flashman books! My favorite aspect is Fraser's use of his character to solve minor historical mysteries. Who was the other British officer standing by when Captain Fenby-Smythe made his defiant reply to the Vizier of Oman and was cut down on the spot? The answer is always Flashman, who couldn't identify himself, because he shouldn't have been shirking in the rear where he was supposedly safe. Great fun.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, interesting picks by you and Jeff. Never heard or read either. I'll see if I can get hold of the two books. And thanks very much for the link to my review.

David Cranmer said...

I will have to remember these Flashman books. And looking forward to see what folks have to say on P. Highsmith Day.

Gerard Saylor said...

I tried a Flashman audio once but the quality was poor and the reader used a thick accent. I have not yet tried reading one.

Verification is "lloadjob". Warehouse work at LL Bean.

Anonymous said...

Remember the movie adaptation "Royal Flash" with Malcolm McDowell as Flashman and Oliver Reed as Otto Von Bismarck? Quite a romp if I remember rightly. Then there's Rik Mayal's character Flashheart in the Blackadder series--hilarious!


Jeff Flugel said...

Hello, Patti! Not sure if you have room for one more, but if so, I'd love to join in:

I'm glad to see you review a FLASHMAN novel...the books are pretty great (and very funny), whereas the film version with Malcolm McDowell just didn't work.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Thanks :-) for including my post.

Jeff Flugel said...

Yes, thank you, Patti!