As absurd as it sounds, you have to give author B.R. Stateham points for creating a new subgenre of crime fiction with his novel, "Ffolkes' Medicine" (2010, Fireside Mysteries). The main character, Geoffrey Armitage Ffolkes, is a 17th Century pirate detective. But don't laugh. It works.
Ffolkes's credentials don't stop there. He is also a doctor, spy, tavern owner, gambler, thief, professional wise guy and Dr. Phil to the residents of Port Royal, Jamaica. It's familiar ground for a Stateham character. The
author typically piles on duties for his breathless protagonists.
In "Ffolkes' Medicine," the chief duty is to figure out who has poisoned a well-connected British child. Ffolkes and his international crew of pirates, barkeeps and miscellaneous ruffians follow the blood trail to Port Royal's British elite. People with information keep turning up dead, muddying the investigation at every turn. Adding to the trouble are Ffolkes's personal affairs, which usually involve dueling while reciting poetry and a 20th Century sense of trash talking.
While this mystery is intriguing, it's the subplots revolving around Ffolkes that are most entertaining. Ffolkes
strokes his ego at every turn, often to a fault. He's positive he's the smartest, most beautiful, most talented person in Port Royal. This is great fun throughout the novel, but unlike the concept of a pirate detective, this feels like well-worn territory.
Although Stateham probably meant to present Ffolkes's ego tongue-in-cheek, no one calls Ffolkes out on his crap. It's as if everyone in Port Royal believes everything Ffolkes thinks about himself: he's the smartest, the most beautiful, the most talented, etc. Stateham comes close to remedying this with Ffolkes's sidekick, Tobias, but the latter never gets in a satisfying zinger.
Still, Ffolkes delivers what you'd expect from an egotistical pirate detective. He duels, he gives instructions on how to bathe and he solves the mystery.
Stateham hits a home run when he references the political tension of the time. In the 17th Century, England and Spain vied for control of the world. Both dispatched fleets, soldiers and spies to gain an advantage in the New
World. The English tap Ffolkes to counter pirates working for Spain. The taut conflict heightens the novel to a whole new level, one that looks to be explored even more in the next Ffolkes novel.
Hopefully, that next novel includes a better cover and a more encompassing back cover summary. The first is too grainy, almost as if produced by a pirate press (pun intended). The second doesn't describe the book at all. It's a copy/paste of a scene from the book, not a summary of events contained within. Stateham's pages deserve better.
Which is too bad. These two negatives could turn away potential readers. Should they get past that, they'll find a fun read worthy of a rainy afternoon or long car ride.Click here
to find "Ffolkes' Medicine" on Amazon.com.Click here
to go to author B.R. Stateham's CrimeSpace profile.