Shark Alley: The Memoirs of a Penny-a-Liner (The Jack Vincent Papers Book 1) Paperback – 7 Feb 2016
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About the Author
Stephen Carver is a writer, editor and academic. For sixteen years he taught literature and creative writing at the University of East Anglia (where he also took his doctorate), spending three years in Japan as an associate-professor of English at the University of Fukui. He is presently Head of Online Courses at the Unthank School of Writing, the Senior Editor at Green Door Design for Publishing, and a reader for The Literary Consultancy. He is the biographer of the Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth, and has published extensively on gothic film and fiction. His short fiction has appeared in Not-Not, Cascando, Birdsuit and Veto, and he also blogs on literature and creative writing. He lives in Norfolk with his wife and son, and far too many books and motorcycles.
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I immediately saw that this novel has some similarities to the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser. It is set in Victorian England, has a protagonist who is incorrigible, although with rather nobler qualities than Flashman, and who relates to the towering figures of the day, though in this case not military men but the lions of literature.
Jack Vincent is a hero of our time as well as of the nineteenth century. Born to a humble tailor who is condemned to imprisonment for debt, he finds he has a gift for story telling which proves his salvation. He fights his way to the top by dint of his own talent and hard work, only to be cast into the depths by vicious and spiteful enemies. One day the toast of literary London. The next day – just toast.
Carver is astonishingly skilled at the difficult feat of writing in a style reminiscent of the time while imbuing the narrative with a twenty first century sensibility. A couple of times early in the novel, his writing echoed the Victorian style a little too exactly for me but he soon returned to the faster pace and knowing style which so characterises the book.
Shark Alley is not only reminiscent of the Flashman books. There are touches of Dickens, Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and even what seems like a nightmare glance towards The Life of Pi. Or maybe to Steven Spielberg.
This is an entertaining read for all lovers of historical fiction and for those, like me, who write it. I look forward to further instalments. Martin Lake
I was not disappointed. The early scenes in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison are indelibly evocative and make one realise just how desperate life was for so many at that time, and how privileged the majority of us are in the western world today by comparison - though it’s sobering to reflect that inequality is rising and that wars and circumstances beyond their control still impoverish billions of the world’s citizens. The insights into the Machiavellian twists and turns of literary society at the time are fascinating and equally believable; the action scenes at sea for me, as an amateur sailor and naturalist, were the magnificent icing on the cake.
So could the teacher walk the walk? I never actually had a moment’s doubt about that. Fact and fiction are woven imperceptibly in this thoroughly gripping story, and Jack Vincent and his fellow characters truly live upon the page.
In a nutshell, Mr Vincent starts his life in bad circumstances, only to rise to the top of the heap, albeit briefly, before once again living precariously from day to day. His voyage as a journalist / correspondent on the ‘Birkenhead’, interspersed with the details of how he got there, form the ingredients of a great story that incorporates many human strengths and frailties. There is skullduggery, heroism, vice, betrayal, avarice, passion, kindness and the redemptive power of love, all interwoven into a tale that I felt really transported me back to how it must have felt to live in that period. The 21st century seems tame by comparison.
I look forward to volume Two.
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