A continuous joy in my life since the early 1970s has been my anticipation of the next installment of the memoirs of that Victorian cad Harry Flashman, as related by George MacDonald Fraser. If you have read any of the Flashman books, you probably know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t read them, then I envy you — there is an enormous treat in store for you. Flashman is the most politically incorrect, cowardly, bungling, racist, sexist, antihero imaginable, and usually gets into as much trouble as he deserves. The running joke though, is that all his actions are completely misinterpreted by his superiors, and he thus comes off publically as an amazing but humble hero. The packets of his adventures, “edited” by Fraser, tell the real story, and the result is simply hilarious. Beyond the humor is the incredible detail of history related in the books. There is no doubt I have learned more about 19th century history from these books than any other source.
So, in preparation for my upcoming trip to Paris, France, armed with a 30% off coupon at Borders, I looked around the fiction section, wondering if there was a new Flashman book out. The last one had come out in 2005, and, while terrific, was a little bit disappointing because for over 30 years I have been waiting to hear about Flashman’s adventures in the Civil War, and I knew that I had to wait at least for the next book. According to hints scattered through the books, Flashman served on both sides of the Civil War, was an aide to Lincoln, and was present at Appomattox. So I looked under the “F”s and found a new Fraser book: The Reavers. Not a Flashman book, but I delight in all his books, some of which, like Mr. American and Black Ajax contain meetings with Flashman or his relatives. This book by its cover looked similar to one of his funniest books The Pyrates. I glanced at the end papers. There was a picture of Mr. Fraser, I skimmed over the text, and my heart stopped.
“George MacDonald Fraser was born in England and schooled in Scotland, served in a Highland regiment in India, Africa and the Middle East, and died on the Isle of Man in 2008.”
It seems impossible to believe. Flashman and Fraser had been my companions for years, now the world seems an emptier and poorer place. I am thankful though that even if Mr. Fraser is gone, he is immortalized through his character, Harry Flashman. I will read this last book with sadness, but probably will never give up hope that the 13th packet of the Flashman papers will eventually see the light of day.