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Just not cricket !
on 29 January 2002
The lady in question is Flashy's beloved (sometimes) wife Elspeth, and it is because of her that our reluctant warrior manages to get himself enmeshed in sticky situations in the East Indies and Madagascar. Not the best Flashman adventure it has to be said, but still good enough to bring a smile and keep one up late. 'Filling in the gaps' is basically what this sixth Flashman tale does, covering as it does the period 1842-45; after he returned from Afghanistan and before he got himself involved in the Schleswig-Holstein affair.
This is basically a book of three parts. The first part is mainly concerned with cricket, and how Flashy, after accepting an offer from the rather pious Tom Brown (whom Flashy sets out to shock), ends up pitting his wits against England's finest exponents of leather on willow. MacDonald Frasers description of a summer's day at Lords in the 1840's means that you are in
effect there for yourself, so atmospheric and evocative is his narrative of England and all things cricket.
An interesting diversion in this section of the book sees Flashy travelling to see a public hanging at Newgate, and his unerring ability to catch sight of famous people continues when he is close to the author of 'Vanity Fair', William Makepeace Thackeray.
The second part of the novel sees Flashy, after failing to win a cricket challenge against the likeable but enigmatic Don Solomon Haslam, and fearful of the retribution of a certain Mr Daedalus Tighe (who had money on the outcome), getting himself into hot water in the East Indies as he tries to locate Elspeth. His adoring wife you see has been spirited away by the previously unimpeachable Don Solomon, but then the said Don is most decidely NOT what he seems.
An expedition to recover his lost love, led by the eccentric and reckless adventurer 'Raja' Brooke to Borneo sees Flashy engaging in various skirmishes with pirates. The upshot of which is that he ends up in.....Madagascar ! as a prisoner and sexual servant to the highly unpredictable Queen Ranavalona.
Flashy has to 'service' the demanding monarch constantly; for failure to perform could result in him meeting a particularly nasty end. The Madagascar adventure forms the third and by far the most entertaining portion of this sixth Flashman package.
MacDonald Fraser conjures up a truly haunting and indeed disturbing atmosphere, as we are introduced through the eyes of prisoner Flashy to a Madagascar where the 'Mad' is not out of place. This is not a country at ease with itself, it is a place where fear is a neighbour, where all the norms of civilised behaviour are absent. The inhabitants of the Queen's court dress in garish clothes and ape the manners of the European nobility, but they all have one thing on their minds; survival. Madagascar is a land where life is cheap and death an occupational hazard for its unfortunate population while Ranavalona is at the helm.
Court intrigue and flight follow, culminating in Flashy and his lady getting caught up in an attack on the port of Tamitave, here a truly comical scene is described when an English and French officer argue, despite the carnage and continuing danger, over possession of a Malagassy flag.
The flight to freedom actually sees Elspeth displaying qualities not seen before from the dedicated snob and socialite, and it prompts Flashy to come out with one of his classic quotes:
'She was a soldier's wife, all right; pity she hadn't married a soldier'
This package is also interesting for that fact that it contains Elspeth's diary entries for this period and the equally acerbic comments added by her sister, Grizel de Rothschild. Incidentally, the cover of 'Flashman's Lady' shows our hero outfitted in cricketing garb but the lady over his shoulder wearing the burgundy dress is a mystery to me, whoever can she be ?
Read and enjoy, this is how adventures were meant to be.