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Captain in Calico by George MacDonald Fraser
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Captain in Calico (2015)

by George MacDonald Fraser

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A perfectly serviceable and pleasant pirate story, notable largely for the name of its author: George MacDonald Fraser. Captain in Calico was a manuscript written by a dissatisfied journalist and rejected for publication in 1959, ten years before the author found (fully deserved) fame with the first Flashman book. The rejection letters and feedback included as an appendix in the book – finally published in 2015 seven years after the author's death – give an interesting insight into the publishing process.

How Fraser went from this to the ingenious riches of Flashman and his subsequent stellar writing career (he never wrote a bad book) makes you wonder at the strange alchemy that goes into creating a novel. Perhaps Fraser was selling himself short here, not being ambitious enough: though there's plenty of the storyteller's eye in evidence and whispers of the later G.M.F., the plot is very conventional and the characters don't always land. Perhaps Fraser was writing too close to the pirate adventures of his literary heroes Sabatini and Henty, erroneously believing there might be fruit in mimicking them rather than in finding his own voice. It was perhaps unkind for Captain in Calico to have been rejected, but it is also clear to see why it was. As the appendix letters note, it is not bad and is often rather good, but it was not distinct enough to stand out and be commercially viable.

I enjoyed it – who doesn't like a pirate story? – and it served as a reminder of the roots of one of our country's most under-rated pure storytellers. I am immensely saddened that I have now read everything published by George MacDonald Fraser: twelve Flashman novels, six other novels (including this one), two histories, two autobiographies and one collection of short stories. And I've loved every line. Even in an evidently inferior work like Captain in Calico (but remember – always – the caveat that it is a posthumously published manuscript) you can't help but be swept up by Fraser's infectious storytelling. One easily forgives the inferiority of the book, for one enjoys not only the charm of the story but the riches it hints at, to be found in bounteous quantities in all of Fraser's later works. As one character says on page 14, ye'll have the pardon and keep the plunder too. I feel I should be ending my last review of a George MacDonald Fraser book with something more profound and heartfelt, but I can only say that I have a fondness for this author's body of work that I do not feel for any other. ( )
  MikeFutcher | Aug 11, 2017 |
First off: I have to admit, I haven't yet read anything else by George MacDonald Fraser, so those hoping for me to compare this book with his larger body of work must remain disappointed - sorry!

When I picked this up, I wasn't aware that this is actually Fraser's first novel, which remained unpublished during his lifetime. I just knew that I'd heard the author's name around for quite some time, and that it was a pirate story. (Pirates are always a selling point, with me.)

As one might guess from the title, this is a fictionalized account of the notorious Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonney. (it's quite a different take from the one currently being broadcast in 'Black Sails' - but I'd still recommend it to fans.)

My verdict? Well, as a story of pirate adventure, it does the job. It doesn't transcend the job, however. It's not a great work of literature, it's not full of great historical research or insights, and it does feel a little old-fashioned. It also ended a little abruptly, I thought. But if you're looking for a quick, fun read - with pirates - this may buckle your swash.

I've still got to get one of George MacDonald Fraser's more well-known and acclaimed works onto my reading list.

Many thanks to Mysterious Press and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802124380, Hardcover)

George MacDonald Fraser was famed for his legendary Flashman series, featuring the incorrigible knave Harry Flashman. In the colorful standalone novel Captain in Calico, which has never been published, Fraser introduces another real-life anti-hero: Captain John Rackham, called “Calico Jack,” an illustrious eighteenth-century pirate who marauded the Caribbean seas.

On a tranquil evening in the Bahamas, Calico Jack, long wanted on counts of piracy, makes a surprise appearance at the Governor’s residence and asks for a pardon. A deal is brokered after Jack reveals the motive for turning himself in: love. When he last set sail from the Bahamas two years ago, Jack left behind a beautiful fiancée, and he hopes to win her back. But while Jack was off pirating, his beloved has become betrothed to a new man—the governor himself. It doesn’t take long for this truth to come to light, and after embarking on a new romance with famous Irish pirate Anne Bonney, Jack is quickly transformed back into a thieving captain in calico.

With his trademark picaresque style, Fraser draws readers into the wild west of the British empire, where black sails prowl the waters and redemption can be found in the most unexpected places.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 03 Jul 2015 19:13:31 -0400)

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