This story is set in a 17th century British village that is dealing with the black plague. The village at the behest of the pastor decides to quarantiThis story is set in a 17th century British village that is dealing with the black plague. The village at the behest of the pastor decides to quarantine themselves to prevent the spread of disease to towns in the adjacent countryside. The story is based on a true tale from the village of Eyam in Derbyshire, where townspeople actually did decide to segregate themselves and let the plague run its course. The ravages of the bubonic plague provide the back drop for this feminist tale of Anna Firth. She is a young widow with two small children, who comes from a poor abusive family and works in service to the village pastor. She is uneducated but resourceful. The trials of the plague and her growing relationship to the pastor, Michael Millepellion and his wife Elinor provide opportunities for Anna’s development. The author does a good job of firmly setting this novel in 17th century Britain. The language is contemporary to the time and everyday life of the villagers is well portrayed. As the plague takes its’ victims, the plot deals with not only the tragedy of the losses but with the everyday problems of what to do when the blacksmith is dead, the herbalist is dead, etc. Anna becomes the unlikely heroine of this novel as she retains a clear focus on life as death is everywhere around her. As other turn from religion and herbal cures to witch hunting and sorcery she makes life affirming choices in the face of almost unbelievable circumstances. The characters are multi dimensional. Anna makes good choices and bad. Anna’s father, a despicable character is given a back story that helps understanding of his life choices. There are hidden complexities – both good and bad - to the pastor and his wife that are slowly revealed.
I think this book is excellent historical fiction. It is an engrossing and believable story of what life would have been like in a plague infected 17th century English village. The author takes a topic that in most hands would be depressing beyond belief and makes it an uplifting story. I liked this book so well that I overlook the last chapter which comes in from Mars or beyond....more
I am going to have a difficult time reviewing this book. I have always loved the Inspector Linley series by Elizabeth George. I was dismayed when GeorI am going to have a difficult time reviewing this book. I have always loved the Inspector Linley series by Elizabeth George. I was dismayed when George killed off Linley’s wife Helen in With No One as Witness, disappointed in her previous novel Careless in Red and really, really disappointed in This Body of Death. I’ve kept reading this series because I have much enjoyed the characters -Inspector Linley, Barbara Havers, Simon St. James and his wife Deborah. They are well drawn and rich in detail. The nuances of class in British society are well described. But I think this might be it for me. This book is 600 plus pages long. It moves at a glacial pace. There is a murder in a London cemetery. The girl who is murdered is from the countryside. There is a historical story that is told in alternating chapters with the real time murder mystery. The historical story speaks to some of the problems of children raised in poverty. It all comes together at the end but it is tortorous. There are numerous characters many of whom are extraneous to the plot. Almost all of the characters seem to lack passion, only Barb Havers delivers in expanding her character in her relationship with her neighbors and her new boss. A new character, Isabelle Ardery, the acting superintendent is introduced. She appears to be a complex person, but the author really doesn’t develop her well. Inspector Linley is oddly passive throughout most of the story and not the protoganist. By the time the murder is solved I bet very few of the readers even care. The motivation for the murder is murky and the murderer is one dimensional. I hate to be this negative about a book and maybe if the earlier books in this series were not excellent and my hopes so high for this one I would be less disappointed. I miss the Elizabeth George of old - characters we care about, tight plot lines, and less social commentary!...more