Flashman and the Tiger is George MacDonald Fraser's 11th chronicle of Sir Harry Flashman, a "celebrated Victorian soldier, scoundrel, amorist, and self-confessed poltroon." Written with great wit and ingenuity, the series is presented as a succession of long-lost memoirs, which Fraser is simply editing for a modern readership. Thus does he interrupt Sir Harry's voice with footnotes, appendices, and tail-gunning apologies. Indeed, Fraser, whose editorial persona is humorless and academic, seems almost embarrassed in the presence of his subject's unbridled self-love.
This time the year is 1878, and Flashman is poking his nose into some deep political intrigue for a journalist friend who's done him various unsavory favors. Our favorite swashbuckler has just returned from Paris, where he was awarded the Legion of Honor. Yet readers familiar with Flashman's saga will know this is simply one more piece of tin to add to his capacious collection--and that even as he's revered by those around him, he finds it impossible to take himself seriously. Instead he regards himself as "one of those fortunate critters who ... are simply without shame, and wouldn't know Conscience if they tripped over it in broad day."
As usual, Flashman stumbles through history like a bull in a china shop. At the end of the first section, "The Road to Charing Cross," we realize that he's delayed the onset of World War I by various wranglings with the would-be assassins of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. The following sections put him in contact with the Prince of Wales, a procession of remarkable whores, Zulu warriors, and yet more remarkable whores. Fraser's brashly perfect prose both fuels and awakens the imagination. And in the end the reader has to wonder: which wars almost came to pass, but were averted by a half-drunk war hero with a lust for life? --Emily White