On the far bank of the River Alma the massed ranks of the Russian army are lined up. Strong points are bristling with cannons, loaded with cannister shot just waiting shred the flesh of any advancing enemy. They are confident and determined, this is their home and they will resist the invaders from Britain, France and Turkey.
As he nervously looks upon the formidable Russian position he wonders whether he be able to show the necessary bravery and guts to inspire his men to charge into the jaws of death.
As a lowly ranker, who through a mixture of luck, guile and bravado has risen to the dizzying heights of a Captain in the British Army, he knows he must show the leadership expected of an officer.
But Jack hides a dark secret, one that could threaten his new position and even his liberty and when someone from his past appears, he must go into battle not only watching his front but also his back.
Can Jack survive the mad rush into the Russian defences and the danger from one of his own men or will his secret be exposed?
The Scarlet Thief is the debut novel from Paul Fraser Collard and I think it takes a brave man to write about a British redcoat in the 19th century. Any book like this, is always going to be compared to Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.
I am a huge fan of Sharpe and this has always clouded of any other series of similar ilk. I always feel that other authors either try to copy Sharpe or be so different as to make it ridiculous. The author seems to have not concerned himself with this and just written a believable character who is his own man. The clever twist in the story also helps move this away from a Sharpe like comparison.
The historical content of this book is first class and really brings to life the trials and tribulations of the British solider in the middle part of the 19th century. The descriptions of uniforms and equipment are accurate and add a layer of believability to the story.
The battle of Alma is loving described and is the centre piece of the book. The author captures the confusion, anarchy and downright terror of advancing into enemy guns and anybody with a passing knowledge of the battle will know that the author has stuck pretty much to the real life events. It is one of the best fictional accounts I have ever read.
Jack Lark is a great new character who because of the clever twist (which I won’t say what it is!) can go anywhere and be anything and I’m really looking forward to following him around the Empire.
Is there any gripes? Just a couple of minor ones. First off, the ‘baddie’ could of been developed a bit more. He didn’t really cause enough mischief for our hero and I felt he was criminally underused.
Secondly, its just too short! At under 300 pages I got though this in an afternoon (this is also a good thing!). The battle scene is excellent and is well detailed but I felt the build up was a little light. Jack should have struggled more in the presence of other officers (this was touched on but again underused IMO) and this could have been an interesting side story.
These really are minor gripes and for a debut novel this was a cracking book. I’ve spent years trying to find a replacement for Richard Sharpe and I think I have found him in Jack Lark.
The Scarlet Thief is published by Headline books 9th May 2013
Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. At school, Paul was determined to become an officer in the British army and he succeeded in winning an Army Scholarship. However, Paul chose to give up his boyhood ambition and instead went into the finance industry. Paul stills works in the City, and lives with his wife and three children in Kent.