Fraser, creator of the lovable British army rogue Harry Flashman (Flashman on the March, 2005, etc.), died in 2008. This previously unpublished first novel, featuring a swashbuckling pirate captain called Calico Jack, was discovered by his children after his death.
Capt. Jack Rackham arrives on the page fearless and fully formed, slipping into the Governor’s House in New Providence, Bahamas, seeking a pardon from Gov. Woodes Rogers. At that time, crown pardons could transform pirates into privateers who would then seek treasure-laden Spanish ships to enrich both themselves and the king’s treasury. Jack wants respectability—and Kate Sampson, a planter’s daughter he was engaged to marry several years earlier. Bad luck, for Kate has become the governor’s betrothed. Rogers grants the pardon, but he’s duplicitous, and his trickery doesn’t end with inveigling a French blackguard to challenge Jack to a duel. Wounded, Jack is nursed back to health by Anne Bonney, a captivating redhead married to a depraved planter. Through her, Jack learns the governor plans to ship captured Spanish treasure to England. Revenge and riches lure Jack, with Anne tagging along, back to pirate life. This early work, a decent yarn in itself, shows flashes of Fraser’s more famous novels, right down to antiquarian words like "langrel," "baldrick," and "argosy" and common words like "filibuster" returned to historical context. Jack’s all Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, and Anne ricochets from poor waif to abused wife to a "sadistic, feral" opportunist with "a streak of madness in her nature." Secondary players are appealingly sketched, and Fraser’s plot, action scenes, and narrative logic show signs of the accomplished adventure writer he would become.
An entertaining story laced with historical references but unlikely to influence Fraser’s reputation for good or ill.