Black Ajax /

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Main Author: Fraser, George MacDonald, 1925- (Author)
Format: Book
Published:New York : Carroll & Graf, 1998.
Edition:1st Carroll & Graf ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Taking a break from his delightful series about the Victorian scoundrel Harry Flashman, Fraser gives us a superb novel about Tom Molineaux, a freed slave from Virginia who was a boxing sensation in the early days of the sport in Regency England. Fraser's encyclopedic knowledge of 19th-century British mores and slang and his splendid eye for period color have never been put to better use. He tells the story of Molineaux through a series of narrators: Molineaux's trainer and second; contemporary boxing journalists; Flashman's rakish father, who takes up Tom's cause for a time; his childhood sweetheart; a lascivious footman; and others. All of them are characterized with a perfect ear for their particular diction‘and, for those taken aback by the authentic vernacular, there is a useful glossary. The portrait of Molineaux‘vain, strutting, childlike, at once hugely courageous and profoundly vulnerable‘is memorable. Has there ever been a more vivid picture of the thrills and horrors of the early bare-knuckle boxing days, when the sport was at once illegal and a national obsession? For anyone interested in the period, in the place of a black man in a highly stratified society and in a compelling story of courage and ultimate sorrow, this is the book. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A rip-roaring fictional retelling of the story of black bare-knuckle prizefighter Tom Molineaux, an American freed slave who challenged England's beloved heavyweight champion Tom Cribb in the early years of the 19th century. The same fractious energy that characterizes Fraser's popular Flashman novels courses throughout this wonderfully flavorful tale, which, following a Prologue set in 1818 (Molineaux's last year), presents the testimony of various ``witnesses'' to the fighterŽs life and career as elicited by an unnamed ``industrious inquirer.'' The most voluble talkers are Thomas ``Paddington'' Jones and mulatto Bill Richmond, the ``retired pugilists'' who train and manage Tom; noted boxing journalist Pierce Egan (whose hyperbolic prose is expertly re-created); and especially Captain Buckley ``Buck'' Flashman (father of the better-known Harry), a good-natured rogue who charms all and sundry with mellifluous harangues about the exhilarating horrors of the Napoleonic Wars and the merry licentiousness of the good old daysŽand who's equally capable of supervising Tom's career and of betraying ``his'' fighter for a fast purse. Through their and several others' memories of Tom's progress up from slavery through conquest and celebrity to dissolution and untimely death, Fraser builds a stunning picture of his eponymous hero as a magnificent athlete destroyed by the temptations of fame, battling gamely even when ``woozy wi' daffy and collywobbles and half the strength drained out o' him by a night's fornicating''; and, even more impressively, of a Regency England characterized by ``churches half-empty and hells packed full, fashion and frolic the occupations, and sport the religion.'' It all races by so quickly that there's scarcely time to savor the glorious period argot (much of it explained in a hilarious and helpful Glossary). You'd have to be dicked in the nob to dislike this book. It's bloody marvelous.

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