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Flashman and the Tiger
Flashman and the Tiger by
George Macdonald Fraser
Harper Collins
319 pages, 2000
ISBN 0002259516
Reviewed by our UK Editor Rachel A. Hyde

Any existing Flashman fans will be cheering that at long last there is a new volume in the series, the first for several years. Strangers to this phenomenon in historical novel series (as bestsellers they are counted as mainstream fiction) are no doubt wondering what all the fuss is about. Flashman is the cowardly bully from Tom Brown’s Schooldays who grows up to become a hero, featuring in almost every 19th century campaign and adventure from 1839 onwards.

Really he just wants to stay out of the way and live a quiet, pleasure-filled life with his wife’s millions and lots of women, but somehow he just can’t stay out of trouble and gets into the most extravagant scrapes. Where it differs from other tales of derring-do is the meticulous research and first-rate writing skills of the author, coupled with the highly readable and first-person voice of Flashman himself as he tells us all about it. The reader is there along with him, plunging through the jungles of Sarawak with Brooke or charging with the Light Brigade.

In this new volume we have three stories instead of the usual one. They also all feature an older Flashman than we have seen him before as they deal with the years 1878-1891.

The first one is of novella length and tells of an adventure involving larger-than-life reporter Blowitz and certain goings-on aboard the Orient Express. It is no coincidence that Blowitz, though a historical figure bears a string resemblance to Poirot and that there is a mystery to solve involving the Kaiser, a Ruritanian-style setting, some old enemies and an assassination plot. In the second story (set in 1890) we have the Prince of Wales and the Tranby-Croft Affair where one of the Prince’s friends is accused of cheating at cards. Fraser has a humorous and imaginative twist on what might have happened. In the final story we have Rorke’s Drift, the Zulus and the villainous Moran who is out for Flashman’s blood – but why? Fraser also manages to bring in Holmes and Watson who have a very funny reaction to the whole affair.

Whatever these stories are about though, they are always entertaining and Fraser manages to give escapist reading a respectability with his unique handling of fact, fiction, fantasy - and fun. As usual Fraser blends fact seamlessly with fiction and comes up with something with as much zip and rattle as a Boy’s Own Paper adventure but with a scholarly background. You can read this book in public and nobody will deride you for reading a historical novel.

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