Jack Absolute

by C.C. Humphreys
ISBN: 1552783839

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A Review of: Jack Absolute
by Olga Stein

Soldiers, spies (American and British), swordsmanship, sex (if only there was more of it), a secret society, snakes, incomprehensible Scotsmen, and a battle at Saratoga (where the rebelling American colonists scored a fateful victory in October, 1777)-you'll find all of this and more in CC. Humphreys's Jack Absolute. Not exactly a swashbuckling adventure-more a tale of tomahawk, knife, and gun wielding, with a hero based on playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan's handsome, lady-killer protagonist of Rivals. First performed in London's Drury Lane in 1775, Rivals has since been staged the world over. C.C. Humphreys, who was an actor before becoming a novelist, played the part of Jack Absolute at the Malvern Festival Theatre in 1987. He enjoyed the stint enormously, and later decided to stretch the tale of the adventurer-whom he describes as "dashing, wicked, humorous, courageous, foolhardy, and at times plain bloody foolish"-by writing a historical novel that would incorporate documented events from the American War of Independence and some of its actual participants, including a number of famous British military commanders, John Burgoyne, Colonel Barry St. Leger, and Simon Fraser, along with the infamous American Benedict Arnold.
I have never seen the Rivals and can therefore comment only on Humphreys's Jack-appeal. This Jack attracts absolutely. Staying true to the sprit of Sheridan's play, Humphreys has preserved the old-fashioned romance qualities of the hero-loyalty, honesty, but also mental and physical fortitude, ingenuity, as well as the capacity to fall deep in love-without making him antiquated. This is a red-coated James Bond, fighting for England, against the rebelling colonists. He is loyal to his sovereign and his commanding general, prepared to die for his country, but has enough integrity to concede that the American rebels have legitimate grievances.
Here is a brief outline of the plot as well some of the historical context: After being forced into a duel by a young, hot-headed officer, who is enraged by the sight of Jack literally inside the woman he has been courting, Jack must accept General Burgoyne's appointment to serve him in the war against the rebelling colonists or face arrest for his duelling. His mission for Burgoyne is threefold: He is required to help rally his "Majesty's Native Allies", the Iroquois, to assist in the fight against the rebels. He must carry out the duties of a captain on the field, and most importantly, he is to gather intelligence for Burgoyne about a secret and dangerous sect, the Illuminati, whose activities the general suspects of undermining British efforts to overcome the rebellion. Together with his Mohawk side-kick, the witty, steadfast Att, Jack sails from Britain for the colonies, and once there, immediately joins the siege at Fort Stanwix. Things aren't going as smoothly as Burgoyne had predicted-the fort is too well fortified and the American militiamen too well supplied. Not all of the tribes of the Six Nations of the Iroquois are on the side of the British, and to make matters worse, the German Count Von Schlaben, Jack's superior officer, has revealed himself to Jack as a member of the Illuminati, and is doing his best, under the guise of military adviser and head of the Jaegers, the German soldiers helping the British, to prompt St. Leger to make decisions that will cost the British their position at Fort Stanwix and, ultimately, their planned effort to move up and take the Mohawk Valley.
What follows is a battle at Oriskany. Yankee reinforcements are defeated, survivors are massacred by the Iroquois whose camps near Fort Stanwix are attacked by American soldiers from the Fort during the Oriskany battle. Jack rides to Saratoga to warn Burgoyne of Von Schlaben's malevolence and to relate his role in the massacre (Von Schlaben's aim is to disaffect the Iroquois and cause them to abandon the British); our hero is treacherously waylaid (the snake comes in here), is saved by the rebel MacTavish (this is where the unintelligible Scotsman has a role), is captured by General Benedict Arnold, and finally escapes, and makes his way through the Rebel army, across the field of corpses, to Burgoyne's camp.
Burgoyne is waiting for crucial reinforcements from General Clinton. He sends Jack to ascertain when and how many of Clinton's soldiers will march from New York to help him defeat Arnold's onslaught. Jack is captured, escapes yet again, and returns to Saratoga just in time to take part in a bloody and fateful battle. I could go on describing what happens, but why give away the entire adventure. Suffice it to say that Jack's love interest, the beautiful Louisa Reardon, daughter of a Loyalist, is a woman who is more than she appears to be. Jack Absolute is an entertaining read. The hero and supporting cast are well rendered as are the battle scenes and the larger historical tableau.

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