James Keane #1
Historical Fiction Peninsular War
Welcome James Keane of the 27th Foot: a card sharp and ladies man – and one of the finest soldiers of Wellington’s army.
Keane – hot-tempered, a maverick, never quite accepted by his fellow officers – is in trouble for killing his man in a duel: an activity forbidden by Wellington. To avoid court martial, he takes on an unwelcome assignment: to form an ill-assorted bunch of reprobates into an elite unit capable of operating behind the lines. A nineteenth century Dirty Dozen.
An enjoyable, if surprisingly low-key romp, set back in the early 19th Century Iberian Peninsular Wars. Enjoyable, because plenty happens, there is some good, solid writing and the main characters are at least interesting. Low-key, because, and especially for the first book in a new series (as this was, and is for me), it doesn’t really hit as hard as it should. Not as lasting a good impression as the Jack Lark series, anyway (I’ve never read a ’Sharpe’ as these things are always compared against).
The eponymous lead character of James Keane, doesn’t at any point live up to the first line of the back of paperback blurb up there. He plays cards well, with only a hint of any sharp practice, he doesn’t have cards up his sleeve, or pull a gun or anything, though he may have help from the dealer, it isn’t clear. He fancies a woman above him in social rank, wanders love-lorn for a few moments and forgets all about her while operating undercover behind enemy lines. He generally does seem to lack a little edge, especially when the inside is matched against the back cover description.
Another thing, is trying to remember why – him being Irish – his motivation is what it is. Why the loyalty to the British Army, being an Irishman? I’m guessing that that’s me looking at it from the point of someone who grew up, in Birmingham, during the IRA bombing of the British mainland. I was out, in Birmingham the night of the pub bombings, for example. So you kind of assume that and Irishman in the British army, would hate them/us. He clearly doesn’t So, I’m thinking that that was because Ireland was still well and truly a British possession, a British country at that point and Nationalism as we/I came to know it, hadn’t come to the surface yet. So, I’m then wondering, why make him Irish? There’s nothing he says or do, that couldn’t be said or done by an English soldier. The name too – obviously chosen to fit in with all the later book titles as well, can/could be used for an English soldier. If it’s because all Irishmen have a reputation as rogues, ladies men and card sharps, then we have a problem. But I can’t for the life of me, based on this outing, see why Keane is Irish.
It’s a pretty straight ahead, almost old-fashioned treatment of the story, reminding me of the odd Douglas Reeman I’ve read in my time. I’m sure we were supposed to get a feeling that he is sent to spy by the typically English officers, to get him out the way and hope he didn’t return. Then that he returns, with the information thy only half hoped/expected him to return with, is to show them up and prove his worth against the odds. That’s probably what was intended that we get, but it doesn’t really happen. It’s all just a bit too nice.
One of the few things the back cover blurb does get right, is the Dirty Dozen angle. If you’ve seen the film, and who hasn’t? you’ll know where we are. And, after weeding out the unsuitable people on death row, Keane ends up, of course, with the criminals with the hearts of gold. There are many many cliches in the story, but it still entertains and I really quite enjoyed it, in a generally lukewarm manner, as long as you forget the cliches for the duration.
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