None So Blind by Alis Hawkins
|None So Blind by Alis Hawkins|
|Category: Crime (Historical)|
|Reviewer: JY Saville|
|Summary: This is a gripping historical crime novel set, delightfully and unusually, in mid-nineteenth-century West Wales with all the additional possibilities of Welsh vs English, church vs chapel that the setting provides.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 358||Date: April 2017|
|Publisher: Freight Books|
|External links: Author's website|
When a body is accidentally uncovered nearby in 1850, Harry Probert-Lloyd the London barrister has recently returned to his father's house in West Wales due to deteriorating sight. That means Harry is on hand to press for justice, since he knows whose remains they must be. Unfortunately he's up against a few formidable opponents from the past, not least the Rebecca rioters, members of an illegal group from a few years earlier, and officially it looks like justice might not be on the cards. With the assistance of a local clerk, John Davies, Harry takes up the investigation himself, but it seems like both of them know more than they are willing to admit. Will the outcome be worth stirring up all those secrets for?
None So Blind grabbed me right from the beginning and kept up the tension and mystery through a long and twisting plot. The whole novel is told in the first person, but not by the same person throughout, and because people are keeping secrets from each other the reader usually knows more than either John or Harry. I particularly liked the way the first chapter in 1843 has no name attached, and it's a while before you figure out whose eyes that scene was seen through.
The historical context was used really well, with a page and a half of factual information at the start giving a quick background on the state of police, detection, and inquests in the area at the time, and the rest woven naturally into the narrative. The Rebecca riots (Rebecca being a non-existent figurehead like the earlier Ned Ludd in England) were ostensibly about toll gates but in a socially stratified semi-rural community there are of course more layers to it than that. The tension between Welsh- and English-speakers, and everyone's conflicting obligations to family, landlord, and chapel are brought out nicely. The tangled web of secrets and conspiracies arising from it made for a few unexpected turns which kept me guessing and gave some additional revelatory thrills along the way.
I liked the way the bilingual nature of the text was handled, a few Welsh words were dropped in where absolutely necessary but for the most part it's simply stated that this question was asked in Welsh or the person Harry's speaking to replies in English. For reasons that become clear in the book, Harry is unusual for a gentleman in that he is fluently bilingual and he uses this to his advantage. Other men of his class can of course be spoken about or conspired against openly in a language they simply don't understand. This is balanced nicely by Harry's poor sight meaning that gestures and facial expressions are lost on him, and the frustration that causes him is brought out well with the scenes where we are shown first John's point of view and then Harry's contrasting experience.
This was the first in a new series featuring Harry Probert-Lloyd, and though perhaps the connections to his own past might make this novel more personally tense than subsequent installments, Alis Hawkins has created an engaging character and she can clearly write well so I will be interested to see where the second volume goes.
In the meantime, if this puts you in the mood for another well-crafted historical crime novel, I can recommend The Devil's Feast by M J Carter, set a decade earlier in London.
You can read more book reviews or buy None So Blind by Alis Hawkins at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy None So Blind by Alis Hawkins at Amazon.com.
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