The Scarlet Thief
The story opens on the banks of the river Alma in the Crimea in 1854. The King’s Royal Fusiliers, led by Jack Lark, are in a desperate situation with little room for manoeuvre. Chapter 2 backtracks six months to Aldershot barracks, where we find Jack as an orderly to captain Arthur Soames, in love with Molly, one of the laundry girls, and bullied by colour sergeant Slater. Molly is killed by Slater, and Soames and his orderly embark for the Crimea.
Soames dies of fever en route and Jack takes over his identity. This is an interesting plot device, although it strains credulity, opening the way for the ‘false’ officer to save the day at the Alma.
This is not a long book, and the pace is fast and furious. The battle scenes are described in great detail with all the horror we have come to expect of the Crimean War. The characterisation is good, although I think the main characters could have been fleshed out more. At times it seems as if they incidental to the war itself.
This is a debut novel, intended as the first in a series. The historical content is authentic, and the story has a good twist at the end. It will be interesting to see how Paul Collard develops his likeable protagonist and what he gets up to next.