MR. AMERICAN by George MacDonald Fraser

MR. AMERICAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A gloriously old-fashoned novel--stately in pace, thickly textured, reticent yet romantic--about a stolidly old-fashioned hero worthy of Owen Wister. . . or Gary Cooper. ""Mr. American"" is Mark Franklin, a 35-ish mystery man who arrives in 1909 England with a Mexican saddle, a pair of Remington pistols, and apparently unlimited funds: he withdraws £50,000 in gold from American Express in London, stashing it in a safety deposit box for a rainy day; he hires a valet, for 24 hours only, to advise him on the finest in clothes purchases; and when a chance encounter wins him a night of love with musical-comedy charmer ""Pip"" Delys, he thanks her with some pricey gems. But London is only a stop-over for roots-seeking Franklin; he's on his way to take up squire-like residence in the Norfolk village of Castle Lancing, where his ancestors lived 300 years ago. And for a while it seems as if Franklin (whose fortune comes from a silver strike) has indeed found his real home: he stumbles into the good graces of crabby old Edward VII, who's visiting a nearby estate; he slowly earns the grumbling approval of the villagers; he comes out on top in a feud with piggish Lord Lacy, a land-developer who tries to force Franklin's old kinswoman out of her cottage; he acquires the perfect valet in Boer War vet Thomas Samson; still better, he acquires the love of Lady Peggy Clayton, a beauteous young neighbor. And not even an ugly surfacing of Franklin's past can ruin his future: when Kid Curry--an aging, ill outlaw with a psychotic grudge--comes gunning for Franklin (who once hung around with the Wild Bunch), unflappable Samson helps his master to kill Curry (in self-defense) and bury the body. Within five years, however, Franklin's new life will turn sour. Wife Peggy, a London socialite uninterested in motherhood, is revealed first as a liar (she tricks Franklin into funding arms for Ulster's Protestant rebels), then as a blast adulteress. Franklin's honor suffers further damage when his platonic chumship with Pip is misinterpreted and when he's called as a witness at the shady trial of two vandalizing suffragettes. And there's some tense cat-and-mouse suspense with Scotland Yard when Kid Curry's skeleton surfaces. So--in the novel's surprisingly touching last pages--a disillusioned Franklin says his goodbyes to England. . . . Doesn't sound like the ribald, tongue-in-cheek Fraser of the Flashman series? Well, it's not--though Franklin's first run-ins with hypocritical society are royally comic. And, in fact, the only mood-breaking sequences here are cameo appearances by leering, 90-year-old Flashman himself. Everywhere else, happily, Fraser plays this straight--and the result, though slower going than customary in today's decade-hopping sagas, is unusually evocative historical fiction: authentic in detail and dialogue, rounded with full-blooded characters, and carried along with a steady, caring sense of destination that's far more satisfying than the hectic plotting of most period adventures.

Pub Date: July 13th, 1981
ISBN: 0307734935
Publisher: Simon & Schuster