Title – The Devil’s Assassin
Series – Jack Lark #3
Author – Paul Fraser Collard
Genre – Historical Fiction
Length – 384 pages
Published – 29 January 2015
My Rating – ★★★★★
We return to the Jack Lark series with its third book – The Devil’s Assassin. I was really impressed by the first two books (see The Scarlet Thief & The Maharajah’s General). However, I feel that this one is the best yet.
After impersonating two British officers in the previous books, Jack Lark’s third charade is discovered quickly (first chapter) by the British intelligence officer Ballard. Instead of exposing Jack as a criminal and thus a sure death, Ballard presses Jack into his service – as a spy hunter. The British are attacking Persia, whose Shah encouraged by the Russians, is threatening their territory in India. Jack’s task proves extremely vital as the Persians seem to know about every move of the British, thus preventing an early victory. The responsibility weighs heavy on Jack who for the first time must focus on more than the normal duties of a British officer. Ballard is aware of Jack’s talents though and offers official papers giving Jack his own name back in return for his services. Jack leaves no stone unturned for the opportunity to return to his life and save the British campaign from sure disaster.
Historically the story is set in the Anglo-Persian War 1856/1867 in which Great Britain contested the Persian claim to the city of Herat, which at the time was under the protection of the British and functioned as a buffer against Russia. I did not know about this conflict before reading the book and I found it highly interesting to learn how widespread the struggle between the two nations became.
Jack Lark who only just found his footing as a British officer again finds himself in a new role and under pressure to accommodate to it. Admittedly, I feel it takes some time for Jack to grow into his new position. He realises that he is a soldier at heart and can hardly cope with the scheming required of his new profession. Again, we find Jack with a strong, yet naïve character (at times irritatingly though…), prone to short-sighted zest for action, for example when he kills the first spy he encounters in the camp without even thinking about questioning to help him discover more. Fortunately, Jack matures over the course of the events and lives up to his task.
Major Ballard, also known as the Devil – yet again a nicely chosen title for the book, Mr. Collard – for his ruthlessness, intuitively understands Jack’s character and while coming to sympathise with him, carelessly exploits his situation for his own needs. Also, there is Ballard’s bodyguard Palmer – a cold-blooded and distanced assassin – living on the whim of Ballard’s wishes. In him, we get an idea of what kind of man Jack could turn into under his new master’s influence. While Jack can instantly relate to both of them, he knows instinctively not to become too trustworthy.
I really enjoyed this sequel, which offers great battle scenes as well as a more intriguing plot. With the 1850’s, Collard chose the perfect time for his series, as there are major events taking place all over the world. It is just fascinating to experience them through Jack’s eyes and I cannot wait for the next books!