My June read for ‘The Year in Books’, The Devil’s Mask by Christopher Wakling, was an intriguing one – a historical novel set in the early 19th century, just after the abolition of the slave trade, but written in a fast-paced, contemporary style. It centres around young lawyer Inigo Bright, who uncovers some murky dealings while investigating unpaid customs duty.
Like all my picks for ‘The Year in Books’, the story takes place in Bristol – in this case in a Bristol that’s changing quickly, adapting to the post-abolition world and undergoing massive expansion as the well-to-do suburb of Clifton springs up on the hill behind. Reading a portrayal of such a crucial stage in the city’s development was fascinating: I loved the descriptions of ghostly, half-finished crescents, bustling coffee houses and just-constructed harbour locks, and the contrast between the elegant new houses and the grimy tangle of masts in the port below. The horrors of slavery were also highlighted in a sensitive way, with part of the story being told through the eyes of a victim of the trade.
The plot was certainly a gripping one – a couple of grizzly murders, some very shady characters and a few tense stand-offs, with occasional false leads thrown in for good measure. Classic crime-caper stuff, but set against a very unusual backdrop. My only slight gripe was that I didn’t get a true sense of the characters involved – with so much action packed into a fairly short novel, the portrayal of Inigo and the other main players seemed rushed, and the fact that the narration skipped between several people meant I didn’t have time to develop much of an affinity with any of them.
For July, I’ve chosen what I hope will be the perfect sun-lounger read: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh, which is billed as a psychological thriller split between Bristol and the Welsh coast. I can’t wait to get stuck in on holiday, hopefully with a long, cold drink in hand… Tune in next month for my thoughts!
‘The Year in Books’ is a monthly blog series run by Laura of Circle of Pine Trees; there’s also a regular Twitter chat and a Goodreads group where everyone can share recommendations. Head over to the information page to find out more about taking part.