|Some years before the
beginning of the First World War, Mr Franklin arrives in England,
carrying a carpet bag, a brace of Remington revolvers and a bank draft
worth a fortune in gold.
Fraser uses this auspicious beginning to give us a view of Edwardian
society from top to bottom, its highs and lows, its glories and its
Mr Franklin has come to England to seek out the village from which his
ancestors had emigrated in the 17th Century and to settle there; if he
has any expectations at all, it is that he will live a quiet life in a
small, sleepy village. Of course, since this is a book by George
MacdDonald Fraser, this is not at all what happens -- and
thereby hang four stars worth of reading enjoyment.
From his accidental but most enjoyable encounter with London showgirl
Pip, to his accidental but portentous encounter with a distinguished
gentleman in the country who, despite his incognito, has a rather royal
manner, through his accidental but amusing brushes with Fraser's
charming rotter, the elderly
but still randy Harry Flashman (even the young Churchill runs a bit shy
of Sir Harry) and a hair-raising reminder of his past in America, Mr
Franklin takes it all in stride, with a slightly bewildered interest...
It takes love to disturb him sufficiently that he will take decisive
An action that will be silhouetted against the backdrop of the
beginning of World War One and its time.
This is not the rollicking romp that the Flashman books are, nor is it
the cheerful, sometimes touching military fiction of The General
Danced at Dawn and Fraser's other "Dand McNeill" stories
(Collected in their entirety in The Complete McAuslan, and well
worth your time.) ... But it is
a picture of a fascinating time and place that seems so recent in some
ways and so long ago in others, a picture that helps to open and
illuminate that time and place for the modern reader as, slowly but
surely, it slips from living memory into "recent history", about which,
if, as has been said, "the past is a different country", one can say
that recent history is a foreign country that lies just outside our own
And, as when one visits such deceptively familiar but ultimately
foreign places, one is advised to engage the services of a reliable
native guide and translator to get the maximum enjoyment out of your
visit. Accept Mr Fraser's offer to act in that capacity, and travel
back to that time...