A Fortune to India

Written by Tony Foot
Review by Lynn Guest

Sergeant-Major Jack Finch returns home from the Crimea to deliver the effects of Captain James Fortune to his grieving fiancée, Lady Eleanor. James, son of the “Big House” and Jack, a poor boy from the village, were childhood friends who joined the Rifle Brigade together. Invited to the “Big House,” Jack is given news that will change his world completely. When he and Lady Eleanor fall in love, he longs to stay and embark on this new life, but he must rejoin the Brigade to put down the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. In India, disguised as a native, he infiltrates forts and palaces, doing vital intelligence work.

In this, Foot’s second Finch novel, he skilfully employs the rigours of Indian heat and landscape combined with an elusive, unpredictable enemy to illustrate the perils, but also the monotony, of a Rifleman’s life. Battles, however, are described second-hand. The falls of Lucknow and Cawnpore, famous events, take place off stage. Even Jack’s exploits often end in an anticlimax: he is miraculously rescued, or the danger seems minimal. Jack is a well-drawn character, but sadly this reader was rarely engaged in the routine plot.

Foot has two problems: Bernard Cornwell, a master storyteller, and Richard Sharpe, a charismatic Rifleman. Unfair it may be, but poor Jack Finch faces very powerful competition.