Review: The Scarlet Thief by Paul Fraser Collard

The Scarlet ThiefNo doubts at all:
5 out of 5 Stars

My version:
Historical Fiction, 19th Century.
Headline Publishing
Bought From The Book Depository

1854. The banks of the Alma River, Crimean Peninsula. The Redcoats stagger to a bloody halt. The men of the King’s Royal Fusileers are in terrible trouble, ducking and twisting as the storm of shot, she’ll and bullet tears through their ranks.

Jack Lark has to act immediately and decisively. His life and the success of the campaign depend on it. But does he have the mettle , the officer qualities that are the life blood of the British Army? From a poor background Lark has stolen a rank and position far above his own and now he faces the ultimate test.

I think about the only time I willingly put The Scarlet Thief down – was to go order the next one. It’s that good.

The 19th Century is not a period of history I know a right lot about. Make that nothing. However, now I’ve found Paul Fraser Collard and Jack Lark, I think all that’s about to change. Lark is a character, an attitude, a book and a period that stays long after I’ve turned the last page. PFC writes him with energy, style and enthusiasm for the whole that really is infectious. You care for the character immediately. You understand him and his actions and they are understandable, logical – though that doesn’t mean they are predictable. There are enough ‘well, I didn’t see THAT coming” to send every reader home happy.

PFC treats the reader with respect, one of my favourite observations. He takes it as read, that you can pick up on the differences and nuances relating to the period (as compared to out lives) without having them set out so a five-year-old can understand. That means a lot to me, and elevates PFC even further in my estimation. The character of Jack Lark is – apart from his personal habits, his methods and motivations, an interesting vehicle for allowing the writer to can see both sides – of the social and army divide. You’ll get a hint of why from the book blurb above, but you’ll need to read this to fully understand what I’m blathering on about.

Also, there’s none of this modern nonsense where all sergeants MUST call those under them ‘ladies,’ or, at a push, ‘gentlemen.’ Because nothing says ‘no-nonsense, don’t mess with me, I’m in no way gay and neither are you, no way’ army-type sergeant’ than someone calling a bunch of new recruits, or no-nonsense (etc) people under him, ‘ladies.’ Here, the difference is, the sergeants knew those under them were worthless. To call them ‘ladies’ would have been elevating their social standings! Redcoats are scum of the earth and generally expendable. But, (obviously) indispensable (as is said on p192: ‘for it was the humble redcoat who would decide the fate of the battle to come’). Battles are won – as always – by whichever side is lucky enough to be able to throw most men in the line, the ‘meat grinder’ as beloved of writers of Roman-period novels, at the right time. Interestingly, for me at least, the descriptions of the Russians attacking, was in a pattern familiar from all the WWI & II books I’ve read. OK, just me then…

To be fair, the points made about this period’s Army officers’ scant regard – or respect – for their Redcoats’ lives or abilities, is pushing at an already open door of course. However, the observations are well-made, well-times and never laboured or hectoring.

Ignore all this ‘the new Sharpe’ nonsense. I wouldn’t know a ‘Sharpe’ if it came up to me, kneed me in the knackers. Lazy stuff from Marketing Department. Though, if that’s what it takes to get you into bookshop to buy this, then go for it. I’m pretty sure I did see something about the character being compared to The Talented Mr Ripley. Maybe so. However, this isn’t bollocks. I’d say, the ‘regeneration’ of Jack Lark is more Dr Who-like. That should get the kids onto the books…

So, a totally believable character, exceptionally well and knowledgeably written and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish.


Buy The Scarlet Thief at The Book Depository

Me, on Goodreads

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