It is 1868 and Jack Lark – The Captain – has returned to England from the American Civil War, a conflict in which he served on both sides, experiencing the very worst of it. He’s now resumed business in the rough part of London, fleecing the rich and foolish who are after a ‘good time’. To be fair, they usually get it but it doesn’t always go to plan. When one venture fails spectacularly, Jack has no choice but to flee the country. In what is perfect timing, an old friend and fellow ex-officer, Macgregor offers Jack a place on his treasure-hunting expedition to Abyssinia, along with Macgregor’s academic friend, Watson. The British Army is about to take on Abyssnia’s mad and terrifying emperor Tewodros and attack his stronghold of Magdala. And while they’re doing that, there will be plenty of chance for Jack, Macgregor and Watson to help themselves to Tewodros’ loot. If only it would prove to be that simple. Jack Lark is about to enter a hell on earth and he will have to fight for his life to escape it.
Fugitive is the ninth novel in Paul Fraser Collard’s Jack Lark series and it’s great to see Jack again. It has been a pleasure watching Jack’s rather roguish career develop over a fair few years. The man has been changed by his battles and adventures across Victoria’s empire and further beyond. These are books that you can pick up and enjoy as stand alone novels, so you don’t need to have read all or some of the earlier books first. I’m not much of a reader of American Civil War fiction and so I missed the last novel and now I’m delighted to see Jack back on his old turf and then in Abyssinia. Jack really suits places such as this – it’s unfamiliar, exotic, hot and dusty, horrendously hard and he faces a truly horrific villain.
This is exciting stuff and Jack Lark soon finds himself in the midst of it. The opening chapters of the novel are set in London’s East End but, far from being just a prelude, this section is absolutely brilliant! I love how the author writes and he really brings Whitechapel of the 1860s to life and it is most certainly every bit as unpleasant, violent and fetid as you’d hope. This is so well done. And when the action moves to Abyssinia the pace and compelling action continues. This is no sentimental tale. When people die, they stay dead and we know it could happen to anyone. Jack knows that, too. The descriptions of battle are exhilarating, thrilling and knowledgeable.
Jack strictly controls how much of himself he gives away. He has always hidden behind a disguise of some sort or another. He’s just the same here. Occasionally, though, it will slip as it increasingly does here with the intriguing Watson. So there’s a depth of character – we know Jack so well now – but there are also a host of other characters to enjoy, albeit more fleetingly, such as Jack’s sidekick Cooper. The mad Emperor is also a scene stealer and not necessarily for the best of reasons. What a nasty bit of work.
I listened to the audiobook read by Dudley Hinton. The narrator does a brilliant job of immersing the listener in this world, making the danger and tension even more real. Possibly it was a little too gory for me in places and there was a bit too much cussing for my sensitive nature (this is particularly in your face in the audiobook, probably less so in the treebook). But, nevertheless, I thought the audiobook was excellent and added a whole new level of drama and immersion to the experience of reading a Jack Lark adventure.
Jack Lark is one of my very favourite characters in fiction and it’s a pleasure to spend time with him again in what is one of the very best of the series. If you haven’t read any of the others, you will find so much to enjoy in Fugitive, not least Paul Fraser Collard’s wonderful writing and a character in Jack Lark who deserves it. And what a stunning cover!
Other reviews and features
The Scarlet Thief
The Maharajah’s General
The Devil’s Assassin
The Lone Warrior
The Last Legionnaire
The True Soldier
The Rebel Killer
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