Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
Autres temps, autres moeurs
on 20 June 2010
Fraser has made an art-form of injecting non-historical figures into historical events with his Flashman Papers. Not only is the result a very enjoyable read but it holds up a perspective-glass to the past and a mirror to the present. Fraser's fiction is never less than grounded in the past but a past with which we can identify; these are real people behaving as they might in reality, even if their situation is greatly different from ours. To achieve this leger-demain Fraser has to know a very great deal of his period and to avoid the twin sins of contempt or quaintness with which the past is often described.
In Black Ajax we follow the story of Tom Molineaux and Tom Cribb, two famous Regency pugilists. These are historical characters and though Fraser had woven a tale "based on the original story" about them nearly all of the characters are also historical (bar Buckley Flashman, young Harry's father). It is perhaps a comment on Fraser's choice of topic that the fictional characters are the least unbelievable; he has mined a rich vein of characters. The vein is rich because boxing in the 1800s was an interest of both the rich and poor and it exposed a point in British history where class inter-action was at its strongest, though of course carefully managed even then. The fame of the boxers eclipsed even the multi-millionaire golfers and athletes of today. They resembled the great gladiators of ancient Rome.
Black Ajax is told by the various parties to Molineaux's career from slave to almost champion of England. Fraser has them tell it in the vernacular of the time and in dialect. This is great fun if you know your accents but perhaps less so if you do not. It is, like much of Fraser's work, a rollicking tale but tragedy and human folly are never far away. It also opens with a great first line "The black man is dying, but neither he nor any of the other men in the barn suspects it".
I commend it to you.