The Reavers - George Macdonald Fraser
Who doesn't love a good bit of swashbuckling? Wherever there are chandeliers to be swung on, stallions to be galloped and moustachio-twirling villains to be dispatched, you can guarantee that there will be a handsome rogue with a twinkling eye ready to do the necessary. This rollicking tale of the Elizabethan-era Border Reivers is the last book by Flashman-author Fraser, and delivers on all the above counts; unlike Flashman, it takes its history with a large dash of Hollywood colour and a deliberate cavalier disregard for factual accuracy, and much more closely resembles Fraser's other non-Flashman book, The Pyrates. All you really need to know is that it's set in 159- on the Scottish border, then forget the details and hang on for the ride.
...any more need-to-know history will be sprinkled in lightly as we pursue our headlong tale of adventure, romance, knavery, ambush, disguise, escape, abduction, seduction and Kindred Mischiefs, deploying an all-star cast of steely-eyed heroes, noble ladies, unspeakable villains, gorgeous wantons, corrupt creeps, maniacs, freebooters, freeloaders, and hordes of colourful extras, in a variety of Great Locations, including lonely fortresses, mysterious mansions, hide-outs, dungeons, boudoirs, bawdy houses, wizards' caves, dens, kens and the occasional shed and hovel - for while there will be ample cut-and-thrust, passion tender and blazing, splendid costumes, Technicoloured set decoration, and four-page menus, we'll not neglect the squalid social material for those in search of a Ph.D.
Our heroine is the statuesque and imperious Lady Godiva Dacre, who is dispatched northwards by a jealous Queen Bess to take care of her family's holdings near the border. On encountering the two heroes of the piece (a dashing Scottish highwayman and stalwart English adventurer respectively), she finds herself embroiled in a dastardly plot by evil papists, appropriately named Operation Heretic; they plan to abduct King James VI before he also becomes King James I, replacing him with their own candidate for the throne. In classic Roger Moore-era James Bond style, our heroes (and heroines) have to thwart the wiles of the villains and resolve the messy love-triangle that results...
Fraser is sadly no longer with us, so the Flashman Papers will never be completed. The last one, Flashman on the March, was rather po-faced and disappointing, so while it's a shame that we never got to find out about his part in the American Civil War, his adventures in Mexico or his treasure-seeking days in Oz, it may be just as well that Fraser left him where he did. Instead, as his final book, this is a great high note to go out on. He will be much missed.