Well, my fellow port swillers, an unexpected afternoon at Port Swiller Manor with a brace of tummy-troubled young ladies gives ol’ Robbo the opportunity to get away from his burrito-and-Taylor’s-fueled musings (which see below) and on to a different topic, namely some new-to-me reading.

In fact, I have finished three NTM books within the past couple days,  mini-reviews of which I am happy to share over the decanter.  (I apologize for not putting in the links.  Technical difficulties.)

The first book is George MacDonald Fraser’s Mr. American.   In it, a rich American westerner comes to England in 1909 in search of the village from which his family had emigrated originally in 1642, there to attempt to re-establish his name.  The plot follows his gradual introduction to the quirks of the various social strata of late-Edwardian Britain while at the same time gradually revealing his own past as a reformed outlaw and successful silver-miner.

All in all, while I enjoyed the book, I don’t think it is in the first rank of GMF’s output like the Flashman and McAuslan stories.   For one thing, it’s too damned long – nearly 600 pages in my copy – largely as a result of needless and annoying repetition, especially in the dialogue, and a veeeeery long set-up.  For another,  GMF’s strong suite is action/adventure of a lighter, swashbuckling style.  And while there certainly is some of that here, far more of the novel is devoted to the hero’s working out of his relations with the various people he meets in the Old Country, including the daughter of a somewhat down-at-heals country gentleman whom he eventually marries.    This leads to a good bit of the needless repetition mentioned.  It also leads to a lot of staring-into-the-distance-with-grey-gunslinger-eyes.   As a painter of complex personal and social relations among the upper classes, GMF ain’t no Thackeray.

Still, as I say, I enjoyed it.  For one thing, it’s full of lots of on-the-ground facts about the ordinary life of Britain on the cusp of WWI, as well as about the Old West.  (The hero had spent some of his yoot riding with the Wild Bunch, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)  The big political issues of the day – Irish Home Rule and the Suffragette Movement – both play a significant part in the plot, as does the death of the Edwardian Age and the birth of the (shudder) Modern Era.  And we are introduced to a number of famous persons of the times:  Edward VII (portrayed much more sympathetically than in the Flashy novels); a young Winston Churchill; G.B. Shaw; and, as a special guest, old General Flashman himself, to name but a few.   Finally, I don’t think I’ve come across a better portrayal of the horribly idiotic way Britain, indeed all of Europe, positively sleepwalked into the Great War.

All in all, I’d recommend it.

The second book is Tom Wolfe’s latest, Back to Blood.  I don’t know what to say about this one except that if you like Wolfe’s work, you’ll like it.  This time, our modern Petronius takes us on a tour of that 21st Century Gomorrah known as Miami, where he indulges himself in stark, lurid descriptions of racial tensions, “High Society” and its hangers-on, seamy low-end nightlife, Russian mafia machinations and ugly municipal politickal battles.   (The idea of old Tom – who must be pushing 80 – researching a strip club in order to gather atmosphere filled me with amusement.)   Somehow, I didn’t think it proper to read this book on Sundays.

Of note here is Wolfe’s characteristic use of language not only to tell the story, but to color it as well.  For example, early on we read a dialogue among three maritime patrol cops traveling at speed across Biscayne Bay.  The back and forth is punctured by frequent WHAMS! as their boat crashes across the wave-tops.  Very effective.  I think he’s getting better at this sort of thing.   And yes, he uses the word “Bango!” frequently, as he always has done.  So far as I know, he’s the sole proprietor of this particular interjection.

Finally, there’s Patton’s Drive:  The Making of America’s Greatest General by Alan Axelrod, a book lent to me by the Mothe when I visited her last month.    The book is pretty much what the title suggests:  A study of those qualities of Patton’s that made him such a successful and deadly warrior on the battlefield, but which also made him a first-class bastard to everyone around him, especially when he didn’t have Germans or Mexican bandits to kill.   Axelrod dabbles now and again in trying to find the root causes of these qualities, thereby causing me to brace up involuntarily.  I am not fond of psycho-analysis, especially of historickal psycho-analysis.   (I once read a book about Napoleon and Wellington that suggested the latter had some sort of suppressed sexual yearnings regarding the former.  Don’t ask.)   But overall, he doesn’t really stray too much into the realm of  such speculation.  Suffice to say, Patton was a real shite.  Just thank God that he was our real shite.

Oh, one thing about this book:  There is a fairly detailed description of Patton’s Third Army’s breakout from Normandy and subsequent sweep to the Rhine (with, of course, a sidestep for the relief of Bastogne).   Nicely done, but some maps would have been helpful.

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