hat better title to review on this Independence Day than Mr. American, a delightful novel from George MacDonald Fraser, the author of the groundbreaking Flashman novels.
The novel begins with Mr. Mark Franklin, a soft spoken Yankee, debarking from a liner in Liverpool in 1909. In his possession are the following curious items: a copy of Shakespeare’s works, an old Mexican charro saddle and two Remington pistols in his battered luggage. And also, it seems a bank note for a large amount of money. Mark journeys first to London and meets the beautiful and vivacious ‘Pip’ Delys, a music hall girl from whom he gains his nickname. She is one of the first (and few) English characters he will me that are warm, friendly and helpful. And that is the principle drive of the book – the “saddle tramp” is a gentleman, whereas English Gentry are backstabbing vipers. If anything, there is not much ugly about this soft spoken American.
The book proceeds with him meeting many famous people of the times; King Edward VII, Winston Churchill, Jackie Fisher, and Ernest Cassel. But the stellar encounter comes from his meetings with General Flashman (of Fraser’s own books). Now in his late 80s, the General is still a rogue and a laugh riot. That Franklin saves his suffragette grand niece earns him the Flashman’s respect and backing (which, honestly, usually don’t amount to much, the old cad).
Oh, there are gun fights and murders and treachery and snobbery, all the things that make a good book. I distinctly remember one passage where Kid Curry (one of Franklin’s late associates) limps into Franklin’s mansion and attempts to blackmail him. When this fails, Curry announces he will kill him. And I remember a certain passage regarding this well, when Fraser describes the midnight mansion with soothing and comforting scenery setting and suddenly, in mid-sentence, you realize that Franklin is in horrible danger – I actually dropped the book the first time I read it, so shocked was I, masterful writing.
So it’s a book of some happiness and a great deal of sorrow, lying and corruption (all the hallmarks of the English upper crust). This was one of my oldest favorites, and well worth a look.