Rated of 5
by Lance Manley
I've lost my faith...
The early Sharpe books were exquisite reads and merged Cornwell's flair for detail and magnificent grasp of military detail and history with Richard Sharpe a ruthless yet adaptable hero.
It was with some trepidation that I began Sharpe's Trafalgar but was hooked early on as Bernard seemed to have got his zest back (after the "You're still under contract so shut up and finish it"-Sharpe's Devil).
Then he went and Jumped the Shark with the totally inappropriate and sadistic murder of Malachi Braithwaite by Sharpe.
Heroes have to be people we can look up to. Be it Bond or Sharpe there has to be a core of our own level of morality amongst their actions. We all know Sharpe can be a right swine. He murdered a rapist (but it was in the heat of battle and the woman was under his protection), he summarily executed French soldiers (but they'd raped and murdered women and children), he left men behind (but they would have slowed the rest of his troops down) and got deserters castrated and murdered (as a lesson to his other men and to prevent his entire regiment clearing off).
There were always very clear and rational motives behind Sharpe's actions. He never did what he did for higher motives than blood lust or pure revenge unless it was in the heat of the moment. He shows little malice to Harper after he tries to kill him, he lets justice take its course with Obadiah Hakeswell (who'd murdered his wife!) and showed some remorse after hacking a Frenchman down who was trying to surrender (he had after all, just survived storming a breach).
The cold blooded and inappropriate killing of Braithwaite in this book made it clear that Cornwell was simply trying to add one really juicy scene to a book that was after all, set on a ship and would feature no real action until the Battle of Trafalgar.
This was so out of character for Sharpe (not only does he break the man's neck-slowly- he deliberately dislocates both his arm and tells him what he's going to do before he does it).
Malachi was a weasel. But the ONLY thing he'd done was tried to blackmail his Master's wife. A woman Sharpe was having an illicit affair with anyway. He hadn't laid a finger on her or threatened her physically.
This OTT slaying of Malachi would probably have been in context of the character if Cornwell hadn't found some inexplicable urge to "pep" it up with the torture.
Sharpe was never a sadist. He killed willingly and sometimes with pleasure. But never without a reason and never for shallow, selfish reasons.
The bottom line is that he tortured and murdered a man for trying to extort money from a woman who was herself acting imorally.
Sorry Bernard, you've lost the plot. Sharpe was NOT the man portrayed in this novel (and don't try and fob me off with saying this is set before most of the other entries, that only makes it worse).
I've noticed that there's a book after this one. I won't be reading it.