1850 – Harry Probert-Lloyd is a young barrister making a successful career in London when he realises he’s going blind. Forced home from London to rural Cardiganshire, the only path open to him seems to be one he hoped he’d have never take: to become one of the squirearchy.
But Harry has scarcely got his things unpacked when a messenger comes banging on the door. Human remains have been discovered on a neighbouring property.
Harry has a horrible feeling he knows who the bones belong to; and that he’s part of the reason she’s dead.
But the murder took place during the infamous ‘Rebecca’ tollgate riots and, with the whole area caught up in a frenzy of gossip, rumour and fear, the inquest jury brings in a verdict of accidental death. Intimidation by the resurgent influence of the shadowy Rebecca? Harry thinks so.
In the teeth of opposition from all sides, he sets out to find out who killed Margaret Jones. And why.
Needing help, Harry hires John Davies, a young solicitor’s clerk, to be his eyes and, as they pursue their investigation, three names keep cropping up.
Rebecca – Why are the men who dressed as woman and rode out at night so keen to leave Margaret Jones’s death uninvestigated?
Nathaniel Howell – rabble-rousing, equality-before-God espousing minister of the local chapel. Why did he disappear when the riots were at their height? What did he know about Margaret Jones? Is he still alive, or did he, too, end up in an unmarked grave?
And David Thomas. Every time his name is mentioned, Harry steers away from it and John becomes suspicious. Who is David Thomas and why are they not beating a path to his door to ask him what he knows? Exactly what part did Harry himself play in the Rebecca Riots?
Harry and John’s investigations take them as far afield as London and Ipswich where they make an astonishing discovery.
The truth behind Margaret Jones’s death changes everything.
MY FAVOURITE REVIEWS OF NONE SO BLIND:
Flowers of Scotland (and Wales?)
(Ironically written on St Patrick’s Day…)
Last year, a small Glasgow publisher (Saraband) had a thoroughly-deserved monster hit with His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Now another small Glasgow publisher, Freight Books, could have another with None So Blind by Alis Hawkins, which is also a nineteenth-century historical thriller – a ‘social thriller’ if one can call it that – but set not in wild west Scotland, but in equally wild south Wales, at a time when having a police force (let alone detectives) was something of a novel concept.
Brilliantly recreating the harsh realities of 1850’s rural life in a Wales dominated by class and religion, and with an intriguing and engaging hero – a local lawyer made good in London, but slowly going blind, None So Blind could just be the sleeper hit of 2017.
Mike Ripley, Getting Away with Murder column, Shots Crime & Thriller ezine No 125.
JY Saville on The Book Bag:
None So Blind grabbed me right from the beginning and kept up the tension and mystery through a long and twisting plot. The whole novel is told in the first person, but not by the same person throughout, and because people are keeping secrets from each other the reader usually knows more than either John or Harry. I particularly liked the way the first chapter in 1843 has no name attached, and it’s a while before you figure out whose eyes that scene was seen through.
The historical context was used really well, with a page and a half of factual information at the start giving a quick background on the state of police, detection, and inquests in the area at the time, and the rest woven naturally into the narrative. The Rebecca riots (Rebecca being a non-existent figurehead like the earlier Ned Ludd in England) were ostensibly about toll gates but in a socially stratified semi-rural community there are of course more layers to it than that. The tension between Welsh- and English-speakers, and everyone’s conflicting obligations to family, landlord, and chapel are brought out nicely. The tangled web of secrets and conspiracies arising from it made for a few unexpected turns which kept me guessing and gave some additional revelatory thrills along the way.
I liked the way the bilingual nature of the text was handled, a few Welsh words were dropped in where absolutely necessary but for the most part it’s simply stated that this question was asked in Welsh or the person Harry’s speaking to replies in English. For reasons that become clear in the book, Harry is unusual for a gentleman in that he is fluently bilingual and he uses this to his advantage. Other men of his class can of course be spoken about or conspired against openly in a language they simply don’t understand. This is balanced nicely by Harry’s poor sight meaning that gestures and facial expressions are lost on him, and the frustration that causes him is brought out well with the scenes where we are shown first John’s point of view and then Harry’s contrasting experience.
This was the first in a new series featuring Harry Probert-Lloyd, and though perhaps the connections to his own past might make this novel more personally tense than subsequent installments, Alis Hawkins has created an engaging character and she can clearly write well so I will be interested to see where the second volume goes.