Review: The Black and the White, by Alis Hawkins

There is Still Crime!The Black And The White by Alis Hawkins #TuesdayBookBlog

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My second review is of The Black And The White by Alis Hawkins

Book Description:

Far from home, in the middle of a frozen and snowy night, a stranger saves Martin Collyer’s life. But is he a good man or a callous opportunist?
A difficult question to answer at the best of times but this isn’t the best of times. It’s the winter of 1349 and England is in the grip of a plague which may herald the end of the world.
Martin has left his home in the Forest of Dean to travel the breadth of England, to Salster, to save his father’s soul. But he is not travelling quite alone. Though no mortal walks with him, Martin has a troublingly lifelike statue of his father’s patron saint under a blanket in his cart.
Does his rescuer, Hob Cleve, know about the saint’s miraculous image? Has he been watching, waiting for his chance? Or is he what he seems, a runaway determined to make a better life for himself?
As Martin and Hob travel through a plague-blighted landscape, sudden death is never far away. Will Martin and Hob find Saint Cynryth’s shrine at Salster or will her cult prove to be nothing more than a tale told by a peddler? Will they enter the city as heroes and saint-bearers or as discredited charlatans?
Will both of them arrive at all?

My Review:

 I have long admired Alis Hawkin’s writing style. I first came across her work when I read None So Blind (The Teifi Valley Coroner Series), my review here,   https://amzn.to/2YQ84J2, and, although The Black And The White is a completely different read, nevertheless it is just as absorbing.

The Black And The White is what I call a slow burner; it took me a while to get into the story. But this didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the reading of it. As always Alis Hawking’s research into creating a world for her characters is impeccable; this truly is fourteenth century England, torn apart by plague, stifled by religion and ruled by those who control; through the ministry of the church and those who own land. The author’s  attention to the smallest detail fills the pages, both before and after the main protagonist, Martin Collyer, begins his slow and dangerous pilgrimage from the Forest of Dean to  Salster.

 Told from the first person point of view of Martin Collyer, the internal dialogue reveals his character.His gratitude that he has overcome the plague juxtaposes his fear that his father has died without confession of his sin, without absolution, and his certainty in Saint Cynryth’s ability (the statue he carries with him),to save his father’s soul. The whole thread of the story is his determination to place the statue in the shrine in the woods outside the town of Salster; the place he believes the saint belongs, where it will do most good for the people who comes to bow before it. The portrayal of his innate goodness and innocent naivety and superstitious innocence, alongside his doubts  and lack of confidence, make him an easy target for evil. The reader is left to puzzle through many pages whether the companion who first rescues him from a violent situation then that joins him on his pilgrimage, Hob Cleve, is a true and caring friend to Martin or a cynical foe.

The descriptions, the details given, of superstition, religion, the charcoal burning, the horse and cart, the clothes, the buildings, all give a brilliant sense of place and era.

 I actually read The Black And The White over two weeks, it was essential for me to read slowly, to take in the atmosphere that pervades the whole story; that of a credulous and mostly illiterate people ruled by a ubiquitous God and yet mostly living on their wits and hard work.

 My only problem, though slight, was the denouement. I wasn’t sure how I thought the book would end. And, as I never give spoilers of any novel I review, I won’t reveal it here. All I can say is that I was surprised (though, on reflection, it was inevitable). I’ll leave that there.

 But, without doubt, I wholeheartedly recommend The Black And The White to any reader who enjoys both historical and crime genres and a good story, well written, that builds in tension throughout.

Buy it from Amazon