Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Life on the Mississippi

It doesn't take too long before Jacky Faber reappears in this blog (thank goodness)! I bring you episode 5: Mississippi Jack: Being an Account of the Further Waterborne Adventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman, Fine Lady and Lily of the West. You may have noticed that I've altered the "Labels" on the right hand side because the list of titles was just getting way too long (thanks to Paul from Google Help!), so you'll find all of Jacky's adventures under "B" (for Bloody) as well as under the first letter of each title. Jacky has just triumphantly stepped onto the dock in Boston Harbor with all the girls of the Lawson-Peabody rescued off the slave ship Bloodhound, when she is snatched up by the British Navy and stowed in the brig. There is still that nasty price on her head for piracy.

Not to worry, though. With the help of her crafty manservant Mr. Higgins, she is spirited off the ship and immediately heads west into the wilderness. They are determined to reach the Ohio River and then the Mississippi. They'll sail south to New Orleans and catch a ship back to ... Boston, England? Jacky doesn't know that her beloved Jaimy Fletcher is hot on her heels, but alas, he is fated to catch up with her much later ... finding the flirtatious Jacky in a somewhat compromising position.

Before this, however, Jacky manages to steal the keelboat of the legendary Mike Fink. She christens the boat The Belle of the Golden West, and converts it into a passenger boat, but she soon finds it more lucrative as a casino and showboat. She and Higgins pick up a number of passengers who help with the various performances (revival meeting, medicine show, theatricals) and they make their way down the Mississippi. Along the way, Jacky defeats some gangster-like Native Americans, is adopted into the Shawnee tribe, finds herself briefly in the hands of the British Navy again, gets kidnapped, tarred and feathered by some creepy anti-abolitionists, and ends up in a brothel in New Orleans. (And that's just the quick summary.)

Jacky's huge heart, impetuosity, and fearless love of adventure keep things moving along in this 17-hour picaresque (a good two hours longer than the previous installments, and more than twice as long as the first book). This does not rank as a favorite episode; maybe I'm entering series doldrums, that point where the basic plot -- Jacky and Jaimy will never get together -- has grown tiresome and I'm longing for closure. (I'm also feeling this way about an adult mystery series that I enjoy: Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge. Get thee to a shrink, please!) But, of course, what truly keeps me going with Jacky is narrator Katherine Kellgren (here's an interview with her from Mary Burkey).

Kellgren just keeps getting better. In addition to her fine performance as Jacky, Kellgren gives us the roaring braggart Mike Fink, the always correct gentlemen's gentlemen Higgins, a no-nonsense Indian cook named Crow Jane, the suspicious-sounding gambler Yancy Cantrell, two dimwitted ladies of uncertain virtue called the Honeys, a New Orleans prostitute with designs on Jacky, and three upperclass Englishmen: Jacky's old antagonist Flashby, the sexy black sheep Richard Allen, and the upright (bit of a bore) Jaimy. There are a raft of other characters, all individually voiced by Kellgren. She performs practically the entire show put on by the crew of the Belle -- including an egregiously bad melodrama, penned by Jacky herself (she knows what the public want). And, as always, songs are interspersed throughout the novel, all beautifully sung. Some of the songs are sung by other characters, and Kellgren alters her singing voice appropriately. (There's a page on the book's website with links to versions of the songs in Mississippi Jack. None of these are Kellgren's versions, it must be a copyright thing.)

It looks like Listen and Live Audio is almost caught up with Jacky's adventures. The latest (Book 7) appears to be out in both print and audio. Despite the aforementioned fatigue, I shall -- of course -- keep going!

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