For Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE . For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click that link.
Reaction to my list of The Top Five Harry Flashman Novels continues to come in, with readers wanting more Flashman reviews. Here’s my take on the novel which would have been in seventh place if I had done a list of my Top Seven Harry Flashman Novels.
7. FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS (1982)
Time Period: Part One – 1849-1850, Part Two – 1875-1876
The Flashman novels jump around to different periods of the fictional Harry Flashman’s life. This book covers his adventures with the Forty-Niners on the way to the California gold fields as well as his much later involvement in the Sioux Uprising.
Favorite Book Blurb: “The West is just wild about Harry!” (It came long before “See what I did there?” was a thing, but the sentiment still applies.)
NOTE: Once again Fraser used the structure of a swashbuckling, guns-blazing adventure story to cast his critical eye on some of the Great Names and Great Events of the 19th Century. Get ready for another generous helping of “History Noir” as only George could write it: by blending fact, fiction and satirical subtext in a way which scandalizes BOTH the political right AND the left.
And as always when viewed against the backdrop of history’s major atrocities the amoral carnal and monetary pursuits of that British blackguard Harry Paget Flashman look almost harmless by comparison.
Synopsis: The plot of Flashman and the Redskins picks up immediately after the end of Flash For Freedom (1971). Still stranded without funds in 1849 America our antihero returns to the welcoming arms – and bed – of brothel madam Susie Willink. That voluptuous MILF has been bitten by the Gold Bug and invites Harry to join her and her stable of prostitutes as part of a wagon train headed to California.
Soon the expatriate British Cavalry Officer is traipsing across the continent alongside the young Kit Carson himself. Harry, Kit, Susie and their wagon train wind up negotiating with and/or fighting Pawnee, Arapaho and other assorted tribes of Native Americans as well as combating cholera, thirst and hunger along the way.
Since Fraser can never resist slipping Flashman into tantalizingly unresolved historical footnotes we get Harry’s account of the mysterious final days at the original Bent’s Fort. Tossed in for good measure we learn that our favorite British scoundrel was the man who supposedly taught the young Crazy Horse how to wink, which was reportedly a very UN-Oglala-like thing to do.
Upon reaching Santa Fe, New Mexico, Susie Willink decides that she, her girls and her business partner Flashman will set up shop there rather than continue the deadly hardships of the westward wagon trains headed for California. In late 1849 Santa Fe was still at its peak as the Las Vegas of its era and Harry was soon back to his usual drinking, gambling and whoring.
After encounters – some closer than others – with Santa Fe historical figures like (at left) gambling magnate Maria Gertrudis Barcelo (“La Tules”), the Queen of Sin and free-lance spy, Flashman runs out on Susie and heads for California on his own. He leaves in the company of Cleonie, one of Susie’s younger prostitutes but soon sells out her and abandons her, too. (As always there’s a kind of Bret Maverick/ Jack Sparrow feel to Harry’s escapades.)
Our protagonist winds up captured by Mangas Colorada’s Apaches and initiated into their tribe A Man Called Horse-style. Flashman is given in marriage to the chief’s daughter Takes Away Clouds Woman after saving her from Mexican Apache-hunters who tried to rape and kill her.
His new bride is as selfish, taciturn and deadly as he is, so Harry sweats out the arrival of Spring 1850 before making a desperate attempt at escape. The pursuing Apaches catch up with Flashman in the Jornada del Muerto Desert, where the Brit survives his one-man stand thanks to the arrival of the Cavalry in the form of his old friend Kit Carson.
Thus ends Part One of Flashman and the Redskins, as Harry resumes his journey to California and its Gold Rush.
Part Two begins in 1875. By this point in his life Harry is no longer the low-key scoundrel virtually unknown outside Great Britain. He is now SIR Harry Flashman, with ill-gotten fame and fortune from assorted wars and plundering in Queen Victoria’s far-flung Empire.
Sir Harry’s beautiful wife Elspeth – who, as all Flashman fans know, cheats on Harry as much as he cheats on her – nags and uses her sexual charms to persuade our main character to take her on an extended tour of America since she has never been there.
To his surprise, Harry has a better time than he expected, as he and Elspeth’s celebrity status lets them hob-knob with President Grant and many of Grant’s old Civil War Generals at various Washington, New York and Chicago functions. They’re even guests at General Phil Sheridan’s wedding.
NOTE: Vague references are made to Flashman’s adventures during our Civil War, when he first met Grant, Sherman, Custer, Sheridan and the others. Unfortunately George MacDonald Fraser died before he could write about Harry’s Civil War antics and the covered-up international incident that he caused between the U.S. and Great Britain. As Flashman cynically and cryptically observes “The only man who knew the full truth about my involvement had caught a bullet at Ford’s Theater.”
Back to our story, Flashman’s enjoyment of this American visit ends when Elspeth blabs about some of the Native American leaders Harry met and befriended back in 1849 and 1850. (Flashman had written a bowdlerized account of his American and Australian travels at the behest of his friend Sir Richard Burton, the famous explorer.)
Two of those Native Americans – Spotted Tail and his nephew Crazy Horse (whom Harry had charmed when he was a child, remember) – were then prominent in the ongoing catastrophic negotiations which ultimately resulted in the Sioux Uprising of 1876. To Flashman’s growing trepidation, President Grant asks Her Majesty’s Government to permit Sir Harry to accompany U.S. negotiators westward in hopes that the rogue’s relationship with Spotted Tail might be of some small help in keeping things peaceful.
And so the amoral cad gets caught up in a whirlwind of Grant Administration scandals, the American Centennial celebrations, Indian Agency perfidies and the Sioux Uprising, including Little Big Horn and its aftermath. Elspeth clandestinely oinks and boinks with Spotted Tail, while gray-at-the-temples Harry climbs into bed with an entrepreneurial American adventuress called Mrs Candy.
SPOILERS: Another way that Flashman’s 1870s adventures tie in to his 1849-1850 American visit comes in the way that the wealthy, eye-patch wearing “Mrs Candy” turns out to be Cleonie, the prostitute he double-crossed in Santa Fe. She wants revenge on Harry, and has planned an especially tortuous end for the English scoundrel.
In the action-packed and blood-drenched affair that follows, Flashman winds up learning that when he abandoned Cleonie in late 1849 she was pregnant with his child … the mysterious man known to history as Frank Grouard Standing Bear. Once again, we see Fraser brilliantly slipping Harry into historical footnotes.
Things get to end on a light-hearted note via the father and child reunion which prompts the two blackguards to throw in together. As depicted by Fraser, Harry and his son Frank make quite a pair and share that certain roguish charm which keeps them in the readers’ good graces despite all their offenses.
Exposure to the writings of George MacDonald Fraser and Robert Ludlum at a young age was an immense help to me in seeing the flaws and foulness of both the political left and right. Just as Ludlum definitely leaned left but included a lot of what would be labeled “right-wing” sentiments in his writing, Fraser definitely leaned right but included a lot of what would be labeled “left-wing” sentiments in his writing.
The non-dogmatic approach employed by those two men stands out to me more and more, as shrill partisanship comes to cloud so much present-day writing. +++
FOR MY EIGHTH PLACE FLASHMAN NOVEL CLICK HERE
FOR MY LOOK AT THE TOP SEVEN ROBERT LUDLUM NOVELS CLICK HERE
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