Friday, 21 October 2011

Black Ajax by George MacDonald Fraser

George MacDonald Fraser is best known for the Flashman novels, and rightly so, but he also wrote other historical novels, as well as screenplays and biographies.

Black Ajax is the story of Tom Molineaux, a former slave who came to London from America with the aim of taking on the greatest bare-knuckle champion of all time, Tom Cribb. The book is written through the voices of various promoters, chancers, gamblers and aficionados of The Fancy who are remembering him posthumously to his biographer. The result is a glorious piece of historical ventriloquism.

One of the raconteurs is none other than Flashman Snr, who has been sent to a sanatorium by his son because of his drinking problem:

I am one of a select band of gentlemen resident in this charming rural establishment because we have lost the battle with delirium tremens – temporarily, I hasten to add – and are in need of a breather between rounds, so to speak. We are here of our own free will, at exorbitant rates, have the freedom of the grounds, and do not consort with the loonies, and ... I say, you don’t happen to have a drop of anything with you, I suppose? Flask, bottle, demijohn, something of the sort?

He’s determined to keep mum on the subject of Molineux, however. Only when he’s promised a drink will he sing:

What’s that? You could call again after luncheon ... with a spot o’ lush, no doubt. My dear fellow, what a capital notion. Put ‘em in separate pockets so that they don’t clink ... the attendants here have ears like dago guerrillas, ‘tis like being in the blasted Steel.

After inquiring as to how the biographer has found him – the man appears to have unwisely left his sister in the company of Harry Flashman – Flashman Snr gets to work:

Now, have you brought ... oh, famous! Sir, you are a pippen of the first flight! Brandy, bigod, that’ll answer. Fix bayonets and form a square, belly, the Philistines are upon thee ... Ah-h-h! Aye, that’s the neat article. Sir, your good health ...

And so to his account; another chapter in an exploitive and bloody story from the golden age of boxing...

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