- Fugitive (Jack Lark #9).
- Paul Fraser Collard.
- 416 pages.
- Historical Fiction.
- My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.
After five years away, Jack Lark – soldier, leader, imposter – is once more called to fight . . .
London, 1868. Jack has traded the battlefield for business, running a thriving club in the backstreets of Whitechapel. But this underworld has rules and when Jack refuses to comply, he finds himself up against the East End’s most formidable criminal – with devastating consequences.
A wanted man, Jack turns to his friend Macgregor, an ex-officer, treasure hunter and his ticket out of England. Together they join the British army on campaign across the tablelands of Abyssinia to the fortress of Magdala, a high-stakes mission to free British prisoners captured by the notorious Emperor Tewodros.
But life on the run can turn dangerous, especially in a land ravaged by war . . .
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I only started the Jack Lark series with the previous book, the eighth, The Lost Outlaw. When I have the time, that precious commodity that always seems to be slipping away from us all I’d love the opportunity to start the series from the beginning, going back to where it all began and witnessing the birth of and the origin of Jack Lark. Belatedly starting a series can be very hit-and-miss, sometimes it works, other times, it doesn’t. For me, the Jack Lark series worked well and I found The Lost Outlaw very easy to pick up and read without any prior knowledge. I feel that Fugitive works well, extremely well in the same regard, it is accessible for newcomers and gives the reader an addictive and gripping action-packed historical adventure.
It is 1868 and five years have passed since the end of The Lost Outlaw. Jack Lark, after his time in the US during the American Civil War, has found his way back to where he was born. Not back home, nowhere is home for Jack but, after many miles and many years Jack has returned, stepping back into his past to the place where the child that would later become Jack Lark was born and raised the East End, Whitechapel, London.
Jack has laid the soldier to rest, closed the chapter, turned the page on his soldiering days and left behind the battlefield and the bloodshed to become a business owner. Over the five years since his return to the mean streets of the East End, Jack has built up a thriving business. What started as a one-man enterprise has flourished, grown and he now has a partner and employees to help run the Babylon, a gentleman’s club.
Only a few close and trusted associates know Jack by name, to everyone else he is known simply as ‘The Captain’. Jack’s business runs on his reputation and recommendations from previous clients. Under the guise of ‘The Captain‘ Jack entertains rich and wealthy clients facilitating for them, an unforgettable night of drink, vice and entertainment in the East End that culminates in their visit to the Babylon.
The Babylon is situated in an area of the East End that is run by the crime lord, Finch. Jack gets on the wrong side of Finch by refusing to play by his rules and by refusing to pay protection fees for the Babylon. Finch is an influential and powerful man. He isn’t someone who you cross, disrespect or whose offer you decline. You don’t say no to Finch, not once and definitely not many times unless you want to end up beaten bloody and broken, your body weighed down and your throat slit as you sleep with the fishes in the murky depths of the Thames. After one refusal too many, one night it all comes crashing down for Jack. Finch can’t appear weak, in the back alleys and backstreets of the East End, it would jeopardise his reputation and status if he wasn’t seen to seek retribution for Jack’s denial and lack of respect. Finch sends his thugs, his bastards and brutes to attack the Babylon and teach Jack a lesson. As the assault ends, in the aftermath and with the blood of the dead still warm and coating his hands, Jack has no choice but to flee.
Abyssinia (Ethiopia) is a country that was made up of small independent provinces that were all ruled by various minor warlords. Until, one day, a warlord, a tyrant, rose up by the force of his power, of his will and defeated all the others, risen on a sea of blood to claim the title of Emperor. Uniting the country under his rule, that warlord would call himself Emperor Tewodros. Tewodros, also known as ‘The Mad King’ is a dictator, legendary for his cruelty, his barbaric nature and his savagery, like a storm, going from calm to raging fury in an instant. He rules by the way of the fist and thinks nothing of killing and torturing not only his prisoners but his own subjugated subjects too. Tewodros has taken European prisoners and is holding them captive at Magdala, an impenetrable mountain fortress deep in Abyssinia. The British army, under Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Napier, is on a campaign to rescue the prisoners.
Throughout his reign, Tewodros has accumulated a vast wealth of treasure, relics and valuable artefacts. By attaching himself to the British army expedition, George Macgregor, a friend of Jack’s and an ex-army officer has been planning to go treasure hunting in Abyssinia. With the army assaulting Magdala, Tewodros and his horde of fanatical followers will be preoccupied and in the carnage and confusion of battle, the treasure will be ripe for the taking. Mcgregor has asked Jack to join him before and each time Jack has declined. Jack had made a new life for himself, trading his day’s trekking across dangerous foreign lands for walking the Whitechapel streets and the comforts of the Babylon. That life has now fallen to shattered shards, it has been destroyed, out of options, with no one else to turn to and nowhere else to go, Jack, along with Cooper (Jack’s associate and employee who was also caught up in the chaos with Finch’s men) and Watson (an academic and scholar who is a friend of Mcgregor’s) join Macgregor as they journey into the belly of the beast, into the hell of Abyssinia.
Whether it is London, Jack’s club the Babylon, the grime, the gloom and the all-enveloping fog that shrouds the dark and dreary streets. Or, Abyssinia, the baking hot days and freezing cold nights, the desolate, dusty and harsh terrain and the mountain pass and range where Tewodros’s unassailable fortress Magdala is located. Collard brings the sights, sounds and smells of the setting and of the era to life. You witness the horrors, the broken bodies, the ground a churned up soup of blood and earth and then, the fury of the guns, the artillery fire and the sounds of battle raging all resonate from off the pages. The action is ferocious, visceral in its depiction, bloody and vicious. There is a weight to the blows and Collard doesn’t pull his punches or shy away from depicting the brutality of the fighting, be it brawling or the battlefield.
As a character, I really like Jack Lark. A bit of a rogue, sardonic, a tormented soul and, at times, an instrument of violence, there are many facets to him, he is flawed, he is human and there is a depth to him. He believes in fate and he is a man of many masks, a killer, a liar, a survivor and a veteran who has seen conflict across the world. The past is a cross to bear for Jack and a burden that he has to carry. He is forged from battle, pain and loss. His battered body is a map of scars that tell the story of his life. He has stared death in the face many times and lived to tell the tale, but if it is his time to die, he won’t run, he won’t cower, he will look death straight in the eye and fight. During his time back in the East End, something was lacking, a yearning buried beneath that he refused to acknowledge. In Abyssinia, he will find himself and back with the army, back with a revolver and a sword in his hands he will again feel whole.
Fugitive is a brutal and engaging story that is never anything less than thoroughly entertaining and in Jack Lark, Collard has created a compelling main character who is a joy to follow on his perilous exploits.
Purchase Fugitive (Jack Lark #9) by Paul Fraser Collard.
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