August 10, 1981 12:00 PM

by George MacDonald Fraser

The author, who created an unscrupulous soldier of fortune named Flashman in six novels of adventure, has turned to a big, sugary confection that takes place in Britain in the early 20th century. The hero is a tall, mysterious, gentle American (the role would have fit Gary Cooper like a buckskin jacket) who buys an estate in rural England, near his ancestral home. At a neighbor’s party, the American is befriended by King Edward VII, a nasty old man with a child’s attention span. The hero also has a romance with a beautiful girl; there is a shooting, and gradually his past in America’s Wild West catches up with him. This period piece is cleverly plotted with loads of charm; its familiar elements are so smoothly polished they provide just the right amount of distraction for a summer’s day. (Simon and Schuster, $16.95)

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