Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Red Coat" Is a Delightful Read

Review By Ken Korczak

What do you get when you take a taste of Thomas Hardy, mix it with some Zane Grey or maybe James Fenimore Cooper, and add just a tiny dollop of Charles Dickens - you get this fine novel, Red Coat, by DAVID CROOKES

This is a page-turning romp across four continents beginning in year 1873. Our hero is Jeffrey Guest, a pure-hearted young Lieutenant who leads a British cavalry troop. He is assigned to help police a lawless diamond mind in South Africa, and finds himself under the command of a sadistic, gleefully vicious superior officer, Major Spencer Shackerly.

Of course, when pure good meets pure evil, problems are bound to develop, and so they do. To make a long story short, Lieutenant Guest interferes with an attempt by Shackerly to gun down and innocent man - Lt. Guest ends up a fugitive facing military court martial, and later a trumped up charge of murder. He flees and the chase is on. The relentlessly evil Major Shackerly is determined to hunt down Guest and have him hanged.

This is a well-crafted novel most people will find an enjoyable read - however, I withhold a full five-star rating because I think the author commits a couple of literary misdemeanors that have become all too common in too many novels these days.

The first is that Crookes relies on some mind-boggling coincidences to prop up his plot and keep the action moving. The second is a more grievous problem: Most of the time when the hero gets into a serious jam, he does nothing to save his own hide. Instead, happy circumstances always seem to conveniently swoop in to extricate him from certain doom.

One of the hallmarks of great writing is that the protagonist should rely on his own resources, his own cleverness, his own desperation to figure out a way to defeat the forces tormenting him, and do it himself - but if he is constantly having his bacon saved by pure luck, or by the metaphorical cavalry thundering over the horizon just when convenient - it takes the punch out of the story.

Basically, Lieutenant Guest's primary contribution to his own success is that he constantly runs for it. When he gets into real trouble, someone else saves him. It's just a weaker form of writing.

However, I don't want to leave anyone with any doubt about the sheer entertainment value of this novel. Red Coat is a top-notch read, even a joy to read. It's compelling and easily a cut above the average novel on the market today. One of the better novels I have read in recent months.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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