Kindle, 288 pages
Published: October 1, 2014 by Legend Press
Setting: Northeast England
In the summer of 1984, England is in the throes of a massive coal miner’s strike. The beleaguered miners, many of whom are raising families in shabby housing developments, struggle to survive until the time comes to return to work. Others, like Rob Donnelly, cross the picket line to support their families, inciting the wrath of their neighbors. Then Rob’s infant son, Jamie, is killed outside his flat on the Sweetmeadow Estate, and hostilities escalate.
Journalist Clare Jackson, recovering from a devastating loss, is fighting to stay afloat by being obsessed with her work. She has been told that Sweetmeadow is her “patch,” so she is on the front lines when Jamie dies.
The police don’t seem to be making progress with the case, partly because Sweetmeadow’s impoverished residents — due to a combination of learned helplessness and deep-rooted distrust of police — are reluctant to cooperate with the investigation. Clare and Joe, her fellow journalist and friend, are seeking answers. To complicate things further, Clare is attracted to Finn McKenna, the enigmatic union leader, and becomes emotionally entangled with Amy, a precocious, neglected 9-year-old girl living in Sweetmeadow Estate.
I have mixed feelings about this novel. Bea Davenport is a terrific writer, and her experience as a journalist makes this story seem vividly real. Aside one issue that — for me — stretched plausibility, it is an intensely believable novel. Watching Clare dart from one news story to another, gaining knowledge about the miners and Baby Jamie’s case, is absorbing. Clare is intelligent and focused, with a brittle veneer of toughness covering vulnerability, loneliness, and deep empathy for others. She is easy to connect with. The history surrounding this story, and the plight of miners and their families, elevate it from an engaging mystery to a fascinating novel.
On the other hand, I found the “whodunnit” easy to guess, and I had a nagging sense that the truth is right in front of Clare’s face as she makes a string of highly questionable decisions. Despite her cleverness, she seems surprisingly naive. However, this probably fits the character, and it didn’t spoil the novel for me.
Despite a few flaws, this is an entertaining novel that explores a fascinating piece of history, and I loved the social realism. I will undoubtedly seek out other books by this author.