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The Winter Soldiers
By Garry Douglas Kilworth

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The Winter Soldiers
Sergeant 'Fancy Jack' Crossman and the attack on Kertch Harbour

By Garry Douglas Kilworth
Ulverscroft Large Print, (2004)
ISBN: 1-84395-230-0
Genre: Historical Fiction - War, Adventure Suspense

Reviewed by Herbert White - July 19, 2004

Set during the Crimean War, The Winter Soldiers: Sergeant 'Fancy Jack' Crossman and the attack on Kertch Harbour is a rousing adventure story by Garry Douglas Kilworth. Fancy Jack is the leader of a special force's peloton (platoon) who regularly operates behind enemy lines carrying out assassinations, acts of sabotage, and, of course, doing the odd bit of spying. Set in 1854-55, this story is a historically accurate and graphic account of the war from the viewpoint of the British combatants. The Crimean War was waged between 1853-1856. The war was fought between Russian forces against an allied force of English, French, Turkish and Sardinian troops. Technically the war was being fought over who would control the Holy places in Jerusalem, but like most wars, the true reasons were much more complicated.

Sergeant 'Fancy Jack' Crossman, is a member of the British military unit, the 88th Connaught Rangers, who has been assigned to special duties' as the leader of a peloton of misfits who are regularly sent out on fox hunts: to spy, harass, and kill the enemy. The Winter Soldiers is the fourth installment of Kilworth's thrilling Crimean War serial that features Fancy Jack. This book opens in November of 1854, and here we find Fancy Jack billeted in Kadikoi, a small village near Balaclava Harbour, not far from Sevastopol. The Fancy Jack's peloton consists of a well-honed group of misfits that includes a truculent Turk who seems to have an unlimited number of 'wives, a female sharpshooter who passes herself off as a boy, and a Canadian civilian barber with a talent for telling tall tales, and who might just be an American. The team is rounded off with an Australian private named Yorwarth, and Wynter, a laid-backed Lance-Corporal.

In The Winter Soldiers Fancy Jack's peloton is constantly on the go. His team is ordered behind enemy lines to blow up an arsenal, infiltrate a murderous band of British deserters, and to sneak into Sebastopol to destroy a siege engine. For the most part, Jack and his team enthusiastically follow these orders.

On occasion, though, they receive orders that they are loath to carry out. For example, in the pages of this book, Jack is asked to train an officer, Pirce-Smith, in the finer arts associated with the special forces skills used by Jack's peloton. Jack is also steam rolled into teaching school during an unprecedented slow period. However, the most unsavory order that he receives is to spy on one of his fellow soldiers. The solider in question is a British general who is suspected of corruption. A dedicated soldier, Fancy Jack carries out his orders, despite not quite being sure if he is being used by one officer to bring down a rival, or if the man he is spying on might truly be guilty? On occasion, his group also carries out freelance missions, such as destroying a clock tower where the sounds of Widdicombe Fair are played ad nauseam - to the distraction of Jack's regiment.

As this installment opens, the European forces aligned against Russia are facing perhaps their biggest threat - the Russian winter. The soldiers are tired, ill clothed, and morale is especially low in the British ranks. Needed supplies are being held up by uncaring bureaucrats. Worse, the lack of proper housing, clothing, and fuel (fire wood) is taking as many lives as the enemy. It is from this dismal setting that Fancy Jack leads his team out behind enemy lines.

The son of an English Lord, Fancy Jack was raised as befitted the son of an aristocrat. However, when he found out that he was an illegitimate son, he cast aside his rank and set out to make his own way in the world. Despite serving under an assumed name, it is difficult for Jack to hide the fact that his education and breeding far exceed that of the ordinary British sergeant, hence the moniker - Fancy. Due to Jack's ambiguous situation, many of the British officers don't know what to make of him. One theory is that he did something so dastardly that he has been forced to live under an assumed name - and to forgo the luxurious (relatively speaking) life, and the power, that comes with being a British officer.

Spy, saboteur, assassin, Fancy Jack is the James Bond of the Crimean War. The Winter Soldiers is a fast paced, historically accurate, adventure story. Jack's nonstop adventures are well seasoned with graphic descriptions of battle field life and violence, interactions with camp followers, and historic personages. For example, at one point, Jack meets a young Leo Tolstoy. This is an excellent historical novel, with just enough insights into Jack's personal life to make him 'real'. Kilworth's character, Fancy Jack, and his stories, are similar to that of C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, George MacDonald Fraser's Harry Flashman, or Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe. As with these other well-loved series, if you are not already a fan of Fancy Jack, you will be after reading this book!

The Winter Soldiers can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft.

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