Sapere Books have got into the way of offering me historical novels to review, which suits me because their editor seems to have an eye for a good book. (yes, they did offer to take mine but I’d just signed with Endeavour and that’s working out well for me.)

The latest is this tale of skulduggery and derring-do in the wilds of Northern England.

When the Duke of Penrith’s agent suddenly dies, the extent of his peculation is revealed.  Raif Jarrett agrees to use his leave from the Army to sort out the mess, but things are worse than they seem. Soon there is murder and riot and the agent himself finds his life at risk.

That’s not much of a plot summary, but it’s all you’re getting from me. The plot is both ridiculously complicated and, at its heart, very simple, and definitely worth reading for yourself. It’s not the plot that kept me going, though, but the excellent characterisation. I warmed to the wounded soldier, Raif, and the man who looks set to become his side-kick (this is clearly the first book in a series), the poacher, Duffin. The love interest, Henrietta Lonsdale, is, as seems the way with this sort of book, rather forward for a woman of her time (it’s 1811), but not excessively so and she has the decency to be occasionally embarrassed by it. Minor characters are rounded people in their own right, especially the valet, Tiplady, “a Character, a family retainer of the old school”. I particularly enjoyed the corrupt magistrate, Raistrick, an excellent example of how much a really good villain can improve a book.

I can’t swear to every detail of the historical background, but it seemed sound and I didn’t find obvious errors pulling me out of the plot. I’m guessing Ms Jenkins rides (the way that horses are dealt with rings very true) but that she does not mix with the kind of company where she has to fake drinking from a bottle. (You stop the bottle with your tongue: her hero uses his teeth, which would have been messy.)

The writing is pacey and easy to read without ever being rushed and I found myself putting off other things to read on. It’s not a book that will change your life or give you brilliant insights into the human condition, but it will entertain splendidly. I recommend it.

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