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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 15 July 2011
COWARD ON THE BEACH is the first in this new-ish series about a British officer in the Second World War. Dick Coward is, despite the name, rather a brave chap who always comes out smelling of turds no matter how dashing or brilliant he is. Here he takes part in the D-Day invasion with the lads from 47 (RM) Commando, storming the invasion beaches before heading for the well defended town of Port-en-Bessin. But not only does Dick have to survive, he also has to win himself a medal. Because his father has decreed that whichever of his two sons gets the highest medal in the war inherits his lovely old country mansion. And Coward has no intention of letting his ghastly brother have the place. Unfortunately his brother has been doing rather well in the medal stakes which means Coward needs a VC - and you usually end up dying the get those...

Many people have compared Coward to Flashman or Sharpe but I can exclusively reveal that Coward is clearly Delingpole's alter-ego (what else do you expect from the author of THINLY DISGUISED AUTOBIOGRAPHY?). Coward is pretty much Delingpole's dream; handsome, posh, well-monied, stonking great place in the country, lots of totty, gets to fight in the Second World War. Unfortunately, being a Delingpole alter-ego also means he has a crippling insecurity complex. The result is a rather odd character.

Delingpole is a massive war nerd and it shows through here. You get the sort of well-researched, footnoted history you'd expect from a Flashman book. He gives his due to the heroes of the Commandos and provides plenty of rip-roaring blood and guts thrills. Yet at the same time he always undermines himself slightly with the insecurity and his desire to honour the real life exploits of the commandos sometimes distracts from the fictional exploits of his hero. The humour is fairly broad and obvious but not without its laughs. Coward's sidekick, Price, is a bit of a one-note character and could really do with fleshing out. Overall quite an enjoyable piece of war fiction.
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on 13 September 2008
The action scenes are pretty good, the love scenes aren't. There are some great scenes and set-pieces. Much of the soldiers' dialogue is tedious. The commandos came out looking a bit stupid (which can hardly have been the intention, unless aimed at an American audience perhaps?). The Price character doesn't come alive at all. The humour is reminiscent of a Panzer tank (heavy, clunking and you can hear it coming from miles away). Despite reviews reprinted on the cover it is actually pretty politically correct (except for some unnecessarily unpleasant comments about a poor, hard-working land girl's appearance).

Despite all this I would probably buy the next one, except that... we all want to make money, James, but the first job of a novelist is to create an exciting read. By spending so long sign-posting future books you make me think you're more interested in a lucrative long-term book deal than with making this one as good as it could be. And that is, in the end, a disservice to the commandos.
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on 15 July 2012
I found both Coward books that I bought (based on reviews) were extremely disappointing. The idea seems to be based on the "Bandy VC" books I read many years ago. A seemingly incompetent officer's wartime escapades. The Bandy books were based on the first World War. If you can find a copy of the early Bandy books I suggest you grab them, they'll make you laugh out loud! The Coward books on the other hand, to me, are just not funny. I found the main character inane & totally without depth. Everyone has their own sense of humour but these books do not appeal to mine. Having waded through Coward On The Beach, I got about a third of the way through Coward/Bridge and gave up. I shall pass these books on to someone I don't like! Let them suffer too.
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on 23 September 2011
Read some of the other reviews with surprise. I suppose it just goes to show beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Anyway, just to contradict myself straight away, here's why I really enjoyed this book and it's sequel.

I liked the story and the pacing. There's lots of interesting and apparently accurate historical background . The characters are likeable and believable in the context of the unlikely set of events in the story (yes I know that sounds like I'm contradicting myself again ). The story has touches of warm humour, action and excitement, and can also be touching. Without giving too much away, one of the final scenes really captures the conflicting emotions of relief, suddenly changing to frustration, guilt and sadness at the randomness of war.

Where the book does itself no favours is with the cover design and choice of reviews. I can see why people have made references to Flashman, Jeeves & Worcester but they are misleading.

Coward is an upper class wealthy landowner with an eccentric farther who has decided whichever son has the 'best' war shall inherent the estate. Unfortunately the brother is a cad. Coward is accompanied into battle by Price his down to earth, cynical batman who is an experienced soldier and would much rather be back on the estate running the stables.

Coward himself is also a very experienced soldier who just happens to have a lot of luck (good and bad). The family motto should be 'the road to hell is paved with good intention.' In particular, poor Coward can't help making a fool out of himself over the beautiful Gina. He does have his faults, mainly occaisional snobbery, but he admits these himself (especially in the case of the Landgirl someone mentioned in another review).

The book is written as his memoirs, recorded for his grandson after playing a PlayStation game together.

Anyway, I'm waffling, I've read the book twice now and was sad to get to the end on both occaision. My wife has also read it and enjoyed it and she would not normally read anything war related. We both found it added to our understanding and appreciation of a recent trip to the Normandy beaches.

I read the second book soon after the first and thought it was even better.

I hope the next one arrives soon and look forward to finding out more about the other adventures alluded to.
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on 10 August 2007
I must confess to having felt a little uneasy at the prospect of Coward on the Beach: I mean, do really need an "updated Flashman" as it pipes on the blurb? Well, if this first installment is anything to go by, yes, we really do. I've devoured all the Flashman books over the years and have recently had a sense that they don't quite have the same zip and verve as they once did. Delingpole, who I've never read before (his previous novels didn't register on the radar to be hoenst) manages to write a very funny story, verging on the pastiche, in a very similar vein to MacDonald Fraser. But despite the larger than life characters and extraordinary plot twists, he manages to imbue the book with a sense of real respect for what the soldiers of the second world war achieved: their amazing spirit and backbone and the honorable way in which they offered their lives. He also brilliantly describes the battle scenes - very Band of Brothers - and tells the story of the assault on the Fort at Port En Bessin with a historian's eye for detail. I really can't wait for the next installment.
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on 22 October 2009
I read about 50 books a year, I seldom fail to finish a book but this one came close and I was relieved to get to the last chapter. Initially we get a lot of nonsense about the family estate being left to Dick Coward or his brother depending on how many medals they each get - and the brother already, from memory, has the Military Cross. So as an officer invalided out of the Army, Dick then rejoins the army as a private in the Commandos (they do not have room for him as an officer). His servant also joins up and is now senior to Dick as a sergeant. While the Commandos are fighting a real battle Dick is involved in a number of implausible events which just embroider a poor story line; an unnecessary embroidery to an outstanding action by 47 RM Commando. I will not be buying the sequel.
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Even after reading it I'm really not sure what James Delingpole is trying to achieve with Coward on the Beach. The cover blurb would have prospective readers think its a comic novel in the mould of Flashman. The artwork harks back to the likes of the Eagle, Action! or Victor, suggesting that the book is a modern take on the tales of military derring that featured in both magazine. In reality its none of these things. There is humour, but its not overt and is more of the wry smile or gentle chuckle variety than the laugh out loud sort. There is also plenty of action, but its not the simplistic sort that featured in comics and magazines of the post-war period, where all Tommies were good, cleancut and invincible and the Hun were snivelling, weasily cowards. Coward on the Beach is far more Saving Private Ryan grittiness but with Brits, than Where Eagles Dare flash.

So if its not there to make the reader laugh or provide nostalgia for an earlier age what is the raison d'etre of Coward on the Beach. The answer to that is hard to fathom. Tonally the book is inconsistent. One moment the lead character Dick Coward, who acts as narrator, will be involved in some farcical situation. The next he will be thrown head first into uncompromising action where few details are spared, before being plucked out and dropped into a clash of the classes represented by officers and the ranks. It is as if the book wants to illustrate the insanity of warfare a la Catch 22, show the brutal realities of conflict, offer a Waugh-ish commentary on the British inter-war class system, provide a British take on the events of D-day and be a stirring tale of derring, amongst other things.

In attempting to be all things to all men Coward on the Beach fails to succeed fully at anything. Despite this however, it remains a well written book. Dick Coward, who although unlucky and too self-aware for his own good is nothing like his name suggests him to be, proves to be an entertaining narrator. After a bit of stuctual iffiness in the opening chapters, with sudden leaps in time causing mild confusion (compounded by the fact that future volumes in the series will be set earlier in Coward's wartime career, which is often referred to during the course of this book), once events settle down and the pace of events picks up it becomes hard to put down. The supporting cast of characters, although mostly nothing more than stereotypes of one sort or another, are well concieved. The action is competently handled. What humour there is stems naturally from events as they unfold and doesn't feel forced. There is also some emotional heft to the book, with the deaths that occur having a real impact on the reader.

If the author had managed to pin down a consistent tone and concentrated on one or two themes Coward on the Beach would have been a strong four star or possibly even a five star book. As it stands it scrapes the fourth star on the grounds that it is readable and could be the start of a series that improves as it goes on. One or two more volumes will prove whether or not that is the case
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on 7 May 2010
The author has obviously read some Flashman books and thought - "I can do that" - sadly he was wrong. The central character is unremittingly unlikeable and humourless and the entire book is devoid any sort of charm whatsoever. Cliched, sterotypical characters; a painfully contrived narrative device in relation to Coward's recollections of the events and a glorification of brutality all conspire to make this book a disappointment. It is also worthy of note that the book jacket contains review quotes only from the author's chums from publications to which he contributes or which are fellow members of the UK conservative press. If you are looking for a humourous series of books which are truly in the spirit of George Macdoland Fraser - try Toby Frost.
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on 28 February 2016
Please don't buy this, as it will only encourage this idiot to write some more. Obviously a cynical cash in on the much loved 'Flashman' series, and like most knock-offs it is not a patch on the original. I had the misfortune to have this and the sequel given to me as presents, and it is a disgrace that these abortions are allowed to soil the George MacDonald Fraser legacy. If you are a Flashman fan, then read them again, but please don't waste your time on this witless, unoriginal, badly written trash.
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on 24 May 2012
The first few chapters are a bore, compounded by the fact that they jump backwards and forwards chronologically.
So many heavy references to other battles and theatres in the war in which Coward has already taken part; designed to sign post more books become wearisome. Why not write and publish these books in chronological order?

Some scenes are blatantly absurd. For instance when the French girl wants to kill him, she could have done so as soon as Coward was undressed. Why instead did she perform the ultimate act of obeisance? Many of the commandoes are portrayed as coarse and stupid, rather than quiet, confident professionals. However the book, once it got going in France was entertaining and held ones attention. It's not as good as Flashman, but clearly that's the inspiration. For example written in first person; meeting historical characters; partaking in real life events with humour and sex thrown in for good measure. Enjoyable though! A good modern alternative I've found is Distant Annihilation: A Contemporary Great Game Thriller.
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