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Wednesday 28 December 2022


 C.C. Humphreys’ 2005 prequel to Jack Absolute (2004) The Blooding of Jack Absolute is enlightening and as enjoyable as the first novel, which I read in its year of publication. I’m rather late in reading this next book, which has been on my shelf all this time! I’m glad I’ve finally got round to it.

The book begins in Cornwall in 1752, where young Jack is constantly subjected to beatings and whipping from his bullying cousin Craster and Crater’s father Duncan Absolute. Jack’s father and mother’s appearance turns on the fateful demise of Duncan and their unexpected good fortune, and so Jack is taken off to London to live with his once-impoverished parents, soldier and retired actress. We then leap to 1759 and Jack, when not drinking, carousing and gambling, is studying – including French with the beautiful Clothilde.

There’s plenty of humour to be had in the various situations Jack finds himself in: ‘As his mother said, these days every man styled himself a critic’ (p70). And Jack and his fellow students embark on a risky mission, availing themselves of the Whores’ Directory, Harris’s List of Ladies. On meeting Mr Harris, ‘Jack kept any distaste from his voice, ever the actress’s child’ (p89).

While Jack is in love with Clothilde, it is with Fanny Harper, the kept woman of Lord Melbury, that he indulges his sexual appetite. There’s an amusing scene where Jack is hiding beneath the hooped skirts of Fanny as Melbury unexpectedly enters the room; farce but with the promise of threat and danger to follow.

Throughout we’re entertained with acute descriptions. John Burgoyne, for example: His eyes were ‘deep-set, of a grey that pushed to blue, his hair a brown that stopped just short of black. It was exquisitely unostentatiously styled, making Jack wish to run his fingers through his own ill-laid hedgerow. Burgoyne's clothes were of an equally simple elegance, rich material precisely cut, brilliantly dyed… (he) was ancient, thirty-five if he was a day’ (p91).

In the previous book Jack fought a duel; he does so in this earlier escapade – but not with weapons but on the green baize of a snooker table!

For certain reasons, Jack is helped by Burgoyne to join the dragoons and is shipped off to Canada in 1759. Here he is involved in the assault on Quebec by scaling the heights of Abraham.

Jack is captured by Natives who do not look kindly upon him. ‘Suddenly, the little curiosities shop in Knaves Acre (London) came into his head. He could not understand why, until he remembered that it was full of body parts that he had ogled and pawed and wondered at. Now, in the way that they were looking at him, he felt he was about to become an exhibit himself’ (p230).

Here, too, he finally kills his first enemy – the ‘blooding’. If you’ve read the earlier book, you’ll be aware that he has a Native blood-brother, Até. Here it is explained how Até began as a foe and ended up fighting alongside Jack – and not least learning all of Hamlet and quoting from it often: ‘Até’s propensity for applying Hamlet to any and every situation was starting to annoy Jack’ (p282).  

Humphreys is adept at describing scenes of battle. But he is also good at describing flora, fauna – and the weather, for example when he wakes to find a fresh fall of snow: ‘… a rush of excitement, memories of childhood, waking like this not to sound but to its absence, to the silence of a world wrapped and muffled… Soft, separate flakes, huge as cherry petals, were still drifting down from a sky showing a hint of dawn’ (p233).

There is a third Jack Absolute book, Absolute Honour (2006); I won’t be taking so long to get round reading that one! And there’s a prequel short story (about 37 pages), only available on Kindle, The Birth of Jack Absolute, relating the adventures of Jack’s mother and father!

It would seem that Chris Humphreys is now resorting to self-publishing – Two Hats Creative Inc – which might show where publishing is going; if an accomplished, eloquent excellent page-turning author seeks this option, it does not bode well for other potential new authors.

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