From the Publisher
"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
Smith (Red Square, 1992, etc.) not only sets his exuberant, sly new novel in Victorian England but goes Victorian novelists one better, conjuring up a plot device at the heart of this mystery that Dickens would envy.
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.