Fraser, George MacDonald. Flash for Freedom!

NY: Knopf, 1972.

Having recently returned from his stint as the fake consort to the ruler of a German dukedom, and having survived a series of encounters with the young Bismarck (a truly vicious bastard), Capt. Harry Flashman is back in London and taking it easy. He’s playing cards one evening at a country house (in a company including Benjamin Disraeli, no less) when he’s set up by an old enemy with a grudge (which Flashman brought on himself, as he usually does) — and suddenly he’s accused of cheating and of attempting to murder his accuser.

Unfortunately (or perhaps not), his hypocritical Scots father-in-law is also present and manages to get him out from under, and to send him out of the country for awhile until the whole thing blows over. And Flashman finds himself as supercargo on a blackbirder, heading down to Dahomey for a cargo of slaves, then over the Middle Passage to the Caribbean. Not that Flashman has any particular scruples about slavery as such, but it’s definitely a hanging offense if they’re caught by the Royal Navy. Fraser relates all the adventures that follow, from the squadron of lethal Amazons from whom they must flee in Africa, to their capture by the U.S. Navy off the American coast, to his impersonation of a Royal Navy officer working undercover against the slave trade, to his escape from the government in New Orleans, to his impressment by agents of the Underground Railroad, to his own flight up-river (within a half-mile of my own house, actually). And that doesn’t even mention his stint as an overseer on a Mississippi plantation, his hooking up with a beautiful runaway quadroon, his flight over the ice floes on the Ohio River, or his two run-ins with Congressman Abraham Lincoln. All in all, Fraser maintains his usual break-neck pace and Flashy comes out ahead of the game — more or less.

Still, there’s something about this outing that puts it well below the level of the other narratives in the series. Perhaps it’s that the author’s depiction of the American antebellum South hits too close to home. On the other hand, while I have no illusions about that time in that place, Fraser seems to think all Southerners behaved like, and shared the political and social opinions of, the worst of the slaveowners — which is not the case, any more than all Southerners today are ignorant, NASCAR-worshiping rednecks. It may also be that, not being British, and having no personal experience of India or Afghanistan, I’m simply not aware of how Fraser’s noteworthy political incorrectness might strike a modern educated resident of Delhi. Anyway. While there’s considerable action and adventure here, the book left me rather unsatisfied.

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