Ghost and Ragman Roll : Kind Hearts and Martinets Book 4
Jack Austin is on the verge of retirement. On his honeymoon in France, he is approached by French, Israeli, and American intelligence and warned of a plot against the UK government. Jack and his team of MI5 agents must find and disrupt the plotters. In between the search for the plotters, there is a story of romance, a mixture of weird and fascinating characters, and the Ghost who appears at the most opportune moments.
Theme of the Book
Ghost and Ragman Roll speaks of adventure, of social justice and injustice, and of teamwork within a disparate group of individuals. Towards the end of the book, Jack Austin speaks out against the modern day’s lack of sympathy for our fellow man and against the the world of corporate greed.
What I liked about the story
There are some books that move at a slow, stately rate, with complex plots that keep readers from rushing ahead in order not to miss the twists and turns. There are others that move at a more lively pace but still keep readers in check. Then there is Pete Adams’ Ghost and Ragman Roll which hurtles along barely missing the bumps and obstacles in the road, leaving readers breathless and asking themselves what will happen next.
The story line is relatively simple: it is a good v bad adventure. The characters, on the other hand, are complex and sometimes confusing. Isn’t this the reality of being human? For example, the love between Jack and his new wife, Mandy, is portrayed as strong, passionate, and, despite Jack’s many foibles, patient.
Mr. Adams does not shy away from using difficult characters in this book. There is the autistic Seb, the lesbian couples, the gay priest, and an aggressive policewoman who is exactly like Jack. None of these characters are cartoonish; they all have the strengths and weaknesses that allow the reader to understand who they really are. Seb is particularly well portrayed with his attention to detail (cleaning the floor after anyone entering his shed) and his cleverly constructed questions for the local pub’s quiz night which lead to a deeper understanding of Jack. There is humor in this book as well as love and adventure. Jack is famous for his “malacoppisims” and his attempts at speaking French left this French speaker laughing at the realistic portrayal of a non-French speaker trying to communicate.
What I didn’t like about the story
I finished Ghost and Ragman Roll still not knowing exactly what the conspiracy was all about or what the significance of 6,57 was. Who were these men in the Pompey football shirts and why were they occupying the fort? Mr. Adams had several characters say that the conspiracy did not involve football hooliganism, so why were the conspirators dressed in football kit?
I was unfamiliar with the expression “ragman roll” so I looked it up online. The explanation didn’t help me understand why this was part of the title. Then I read the author’s note in which Mr. Adams says he used the expression entirely out of context. Did he simply like the sound? There doesn’t seem to be any other justification.
It may be because I am not British, but I missed much of what other reviewers have described as “laugh out loud humor”. I didn’t find the malapropisms particularly funny and was annoyed at the author’s constant ‘translation’ of Cockney rhyming slang. In the early chapters, Mr. Adams gives the meaning of all the Cockney slang words (for example, “around the houses” meaning “trousers”). Later on, he neglects to do so and I was left wondering what “The Sissies feeling a little roman candle that they ought to be getting on with their work” meant.
There was also a possibly deliberate misuse of words (“the moirés of domestic organization” and a reporter who sensed that “elicit information may be available”). When Jack was speaking, this type of error was part of his personality, but in straight narrative, it was annoying.
I hadn’t read previous Jack Archer novels and so was disappointed by parenthetical references to earlier books. This shouldn’t be necessary. A careful author would ensure that his readers understood what his was trying to say. Finally, a good editor is desperately needed. Just the misuse of commas was nearly enough to make me stop reading, but then I came across phrases like the following: “was that was a gender crisis”. Where was the editor? Where was the proof-reader? For a publishing house to let a version with these sorts of errors go out is a shame.
Perhaps readers with a good knowledge of British popular culture will appreciate the humor in this book more than the average American will. Perhaps a reader who has read previous Jack Austen novels will be able to follow the plot better than I could. For someone new to Jack Austin, this is very bad place to start. I wouldn’t keep this in my library.