Sunday, August 2, 2015


"You can't spit on board a ship and not hit eight fellows called 'Jack.'"

So says the pirate hero of my first swashbuckling novel The Witch From The Sea. My Jack chooses the name for anonymity in his dubious trade, as he explains to my heroine, runaway and accidental pirate-in-training Tory Lightfoot.

In swashbuckling fiction, on land as well as sea, characters named Jack seem to have all the fun. (Unless they're named James, like my other pirate hero, James Hook.) I'm partial to my Jack, of course, but since it's summer reading season, here are some of my other favorite literary rakes and rogues named Jack, with one more Jamie thrown in. Enjoy!

MASTER AND COMMANDER  The first volume in Patrick O'Brian's beloved 20-volume adventure series introduces Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy, and his best friend and shipmate, Dr. Stephen Maturin, Irish-Catalan surgeon, naturalist, and spy.

Called "Lucky Jack" for his genius in out-maneuvering enemy ships and earning prize money (yet all at sea in attempting to manage his financial and social affairs on dry land), big, bluff, hearty Jack and small, dark, wry, and learned Stephen sail all the world's oceans throughout the Napoleonic Wars, facing every sort of peril, in a friendship that deepens and matures over time.

Launched with this book in 1970, the series has become the gold standard of modern seafaring fiction.

JACK ABSOLUTE  In the kind of breakneck adventure for which the term "rollicking" was coined, C. C. Humphreys embroils his protagonist Captain Jack Absolute—onetime officer, full-time rake, and part-time spy—in  a duel, a chase, witty repartee, sex backstage (and onstage) at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and guest appearances by General Burgoyne AND Richard Brinsley Sheridan. And that's just the first three chapters.

In 1777, Jack and his Mohawk Indian blood brother, Ate, are ordered back to America to serve Britain in the fight against American independence. They soon find themselves battling ferocious colonial militiamen, British incompetence, and their own doubts about which master they serve.
Write what you know: Humpheys as Absolute

 The audacity with which Humphreys purloins a character out of Sheridan's classic stage comedy, The Rivals, for his own devices, is matched only by the skill with which he pulls it off—with plenty of dash, wry cynicism, bloody action, and a surprisingly tender and gripping love story that sneaks in the back door and turns the entire enterprise on its ear.

Actor, swordsman, and fight coordinator Humphreys knows whereof he writes. He first became acquainted with Jack Absolute when he played him in a stage production of The Rivals in 1987; since then, he has shepherded the character through three volumes of adventures, including The Blooding of Jack Absolute, and Absolute Honor.

PLAYING THE JACK  Mary Brown's vivid and ripping romantic adventure has justifiably become a cult favorite among thinking women everywhere. In rural England of the early Napoleonic era, teenage runaway Zoe, disguised as a boy, is discovered in a ditch by a ragged troupe of traveling performers.

Taken in and educated in stagecraft, cunning, and the school of life, eager young Zoe is spellbound by the troupe's leader—wily, enigmatic, flamboyant Jack, a complex, and conflicted man at war with himself who harbors as many secrets as Zoe herself.

From the rollicking start of their relationship on the road, Zoe evolves through a few more incarnations (including boudoir seductress), while the oh-so-fallible, yet noble-hearted Jack drops a few masks of his own, on their way to a climax full of skullduggery and redemption.

Lively dialogue, deeply faceted characters who never stop growing, and a riveting pas de deux between well-matched romantic partners make this an unforgettable (if shamefully unknown) classic.

OUTLANDER With a hit TV adaptation of her first novel on STARZ, Diana Gabaldon needs no introduction from me.

In this first (and arguably best) book in Gabaldon's time-traveling romantic adventure series, Englishwoman Claire Randall, a former nurse in bleak, postwar England, is vacationing in Scotland with her husband, recently returned from the front. At a group of eerie standing stones, she tumbles 200 years back in time to meet the soulmate of her life.

As heroes go, Jamie Fraser is the real deal: moral, courageous, good-humored, compassionate, and sexy in the best way—he doesn't know it. At only 24 years old Jamie is also a virgin—in a nifty twist on the old romance novel cliché about the tremulous virgin bride who has to be mastered by a more experienced husband. But there's nothing tremulous about Jamie; "I'm a virgin, not a monk," he tells Claire.

Packed with tumultuous history, hair-raising action, wry banter, compelling drama, and incendiary love scenes, Outlander is an exhilarating feast of a book.

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