Time waits for no man – not even Richard Sharpe. Historical facts take a back seat before rushing, screaming out of the door of reality in this latest mind-altering tale from the top action author. Set in Ulster at the height of ‘The Troubles’, Clunge typically – and predictably – pulls no punches in this latest bestseller and stereotypes everyone and everything from that iconic era.
Concussed by a French cannonball at Waterloo, Major Richard Sharpe of the 95th Rifles wakes up to find himself in command of a rifle company of the Parachute Regiment in strife torn Londonderry. It’s 1972 and his men are panicking and looking for leadership. They got more than they bargained for, as did the locals.
The Humber Pigs lurched around the corner at something approaching speed before skidding to a halt on the wet, glass-strewn tarmac. Women smashed bin lids on the pavement, screaming all manner of unprintable filth at the soldiers debussing from their gloomy interiors. The air was thick with the acrid stench of burning tyres and pools of flaming petrol as more of Esso’s finest produce cartwheeled over the barricades towards the line of young paratroopers huddled behind the wire mesh ‘wings’ of the ‘Flying Pigs’ which formed an immediate barrier across the Springfield Road.
‘Major Sharpe sir, sir... wake up!’ screamed Private Hagman at the comatose officer who’d just had a significant piece of brickwork bounce off his helmet. His eyes flashed open and stared, bewildered at the nightmare he’d just awoken into. ‘Wh... wh... where am I?’ ‘Springfield Road boss, we’re on a shout... remember?’ Sharpe clearly didn’t, but nevertheless his training kicked in.
The cacophony of the riot was suddenly punctuated by the unmistakable rattle of a Thomson sub-machine gun and the heavy .45 rounds spattered around the men’s feet like deadly rain – the gunmen using the approaching beige and tartan-clad mob as a shield. ‘Bloody hell, there’s thousands of ‘em! ‘Hagman! French voltigeur on the roof of the gable-ended house, reckon you can take him?’ stuttered Sharpe in his thick Yorkshire brogue. A confused look appeared on the face of the soldier. ‘A French what, sir?’ ‘Just shoot the bastard Hagman!’ screamed Sharpe as more rounds peppered the sides of the vehicles.
The former Norfolk poacher raised his Self-Loading Rifle and took aim through the SUIT sight – not that he needed it, or the rifle for that matter. The masterpiece of Belgian engineering usually hit what it was pointing at, plus Hagman had been shooting since the day he’d dropped out of his mother’s clopper. It was a devastating combination.
Hagman wrapped his twelve gnarled digits around the weapon’s furniture and brought the weapon to the aim – the feint odour of lovingly-applied linseed oil on the butt wafting up his nostrils, despite the acrid stench of flaming petrol bombs falling around him. The inverted blade of the SUIT sight immediately fell on the target’s face – a manically-laughing Provo lunatic. Hagman gently squeezed the trigger. The 7.62mm round left the muzzle at hypersonic speed and bored through the sniper’s turnip before the filthy taig had even realised his number was up. His head erupted in an explosion of crimson. ‘Nice one Hagman, I’ll see there’s some baccy and French brandy in it for yer!’
Another soldier waxed lyrical over the enemy’s demise in a languid Shakespeare-inspired prose uncharacteristic of a tough para. ‘Shut it Harris, you soft, southern tart’ hissed Sharpe, ‘there’s more of the buggers coming. ‘Boney’s old guard eh? ‘Marching to the beat of the bin lid as ever, tricolours flying. ‘This time we’ll stop ‘em, eh lads? ‘Harper... what the bloody hell is... THAT?’
Step forward Private Patrick Harper, man mountain and owner of a very special gun – one he’d purchased himself from the small ads in Soldier of Fortune magazine. ‘Oh this sir? ‘Beggorah and bejesus. ‘M134 sir. ‘Made by Messrs Dillon & Aero of America so it is.’ ‘Well... for God’s sake Harper, do something with it, before Boney’s lot have us at the bayonet!’ ‘Aye sir, so I will, begorrah.’
The swarthy, smirking Irishman pushed through the cordon of troops and stood menacingly in front of the advancing horde of rioters, as yet more poorly-aimed rounds from several other Tommy guns and lumps of concrete spattered and smashed around his feet. Raising his deadly tool, he aimed from the hip. What happened next was awe-inspiring. The burly bogtrotter pressed the trigger and a maelstrom of lead erupted from the flashing six barrels of his minigun, shredding row after row of screaming, terrified humanity and transforming them instantly into a bloodied pulp.
Hundreds fell as Harper scythed them down – as did the tricolours. Sharpe rushed out from the line and pulled one of the despised banners from the twitching pile of bodies and held it aloft triumphantly. ‘It’s my bloody flag now, yer froggie bastards!’ he yelled, his infectious, crooked grin causing the exhausted paratroopers to punch the air in delight.
A priest, feebly waving a handkerchief, emerged from the smoke, an eerie silence having befell the field of battle. ‘Please, please, for the love of the Almighty. No more, begorrah.’ ‘Let the frog bastard have it Pat!’ shouted Sharpe and the trusty soldier eagerly obliged, sawing the cowering cleric in half with a quick burst from his terrible weapon. The ammunition hopper on his back was now spent, the spinning barrels now whining empty. ‘Well done Harper... or should I say... Sergeant Harper?’ ‘Sergeant Harper, eh?’ smiled the huge paddy, ‘God save Ireland!’
‘Er... sir?’ Slack-jawed cockney Isiah Tong spoke suddenly with an air of concern. ‘Are you sure they’re French?’
Clunge blatantly rips off the classic Sharpe series, taking full advantage of the twisted timeline found in Cornwell’s works, whereby the main character pops up with alarming regularity in virtually every action from Agincourt to Trafalgar and beyond. A thinly-veiled attempt to cash in on the genre? Or genius exploitation and an opportunity seized – something that Sharpe himself would surely applaud?
Begorrah. – Catholic Times
Bejesus. – An Phoblacht
God save Ireland. – Martin McGuinness
God save Clunge when he hears from my solicitor. – Bernard Cornwell