Roseby Martin Cruz Smith
The American adventurer Jonathan Blair has been chased by scandal out of West Africa to the stranger land of Victorian England. Gin-soaked and shaking from malaria, he must travel to Wigan, a town in the darkest part of England, to solve the mysterious disappearance of a young cleric. Nineteenth-century Wigan is two worlds. On the surface it is a serene baize-green… See more details below
The American adventurer Jonathan Blair has been chased by scandal out of West Africa to the stranger land of Victorian England. Gin-soaked and shaking from malaria, he must travel to Wigan, a town in the darkest part of England, to solve the mysterious disappearance of a young cleric. Nineteenth-century Wigan is two worlds. On the surface it is a serene baize-green land of the moneyed. But in the pits that reach a mile below the surface lurks a separate world where coal miners eke out their short, violent lives covered in black dust. And while the world on the surface may have fine ladies, the world of miners has pit girls, the social and sexual scandal of the country. The missing cleric, John Maypole, has crossed the line. He was engaged to Charlotte, the daughter of the bishop who owns the mine. But Charlotte is as cold as ice, and Maypole seems to have had a fatal encounter with the opposite sort of woman, an earthy, unforgettable pit girl - Rose. Maypole vanished the same day that seventy-six men died in an explosion and firedamp in the bishop's mine. Blair finds himself involved with the workers who make the bishop rich, miners whose existence is marked by brutal labor and blood sports, and pit girls notorious even in London - and with his own shadowy origins.
Set in the town of Wigan, in Lancashire, this latest from Smith doesn't simply evoke the past, it plunges us into the gritty reality of a mid-19th-century community dominated by its vast coal mines. We learn an extraordinary amount about the brutal world of mining, but more importantly we come to feel a part of Wigan, so actual do its streets and inhabitants seem. It's this dense world that lingers: The plot is, with its one exception, a rather unsurprising mystery. Jonathan Blair, a mining engineer and explorer who has returned from Africa under a cloud (there are rumors of fraud), is summoned by his erstwhile employer, Bishop Hannay (who owns much of Wigan, including its largest coal mine), and set on the trail of the fianceé of Hannay's daughter Charlotte. John Maypole, a fervent young minister, had disappeared on the same day that an explosion in Hannay's mine killed 75 men. Charlotte, bright, acerbic, radical, takes an immediate dislike to the laconic Blair. He, in turn, is fascinated by Rose Molyneux, a remarkably independent "pit girl" (women employed by the mines, pit girls are notorious in England for their clothesthey wear trousers under vestigial dressesand the supposed easiness of their morals). Blair is menaced by two miners, blithe sadists determined to stop his inquiry. A dogged, shrewd investigator, he takes a huge amount of punishment before uncovering Maypole's sad fate. And, in the midst of a dangerous affair with Rose, he discovers the remarkable scheme linking her and Charlotte Hannay. It's a dazzling moment.
Blair, Rose, and Smith's other characters are wonderful creations, robust and distinctive. The crimes here are unremarkable, but the world evoked is memorable, glowing with life.
"A superb thriller that will keep the reader breathless right up to the final page."
San Francisco Chronicle
"THE MOST INTERESTING AND RICHLY TEXTURED CRIME STORY OF THE SEASON."
"[SMITH] AT THE TOP OF HIS FORM . . . It is fun, the well-plotted, dense fun of an intelligent, shadowy, literary enigma. . . . Brisk and edifying entertainment."
The New York Times
"A JOY TO READ."
The Washington Post Book World
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.47(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.13(d)
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