Here’s the story in brief:
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.
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MY FAVOURITE REVIEWS OF NONE SO BLIND:
From book blogger Julie Barham at Northern Reader (21st Nov 2018)
This book is an exceptional and substantial work of imagination built on solid research. Each character swiftly demonstrates his or her own ‘voice’, and moreover the accent of the people echoes in the reader’s head. While this is a work of fiction it manages to ring true throughout the novel as depicting how people react. The sounds, smells and settings are brilliantly described as Harry struggles to work out the tiny things he is not seeing and the non verbal clues which he can no longer appreciate. The concept of having a main character with sight problems means that the narration is of an unusual quality, and I believe works exceptionally well. I really enjoyed this book, and cannot wait for the next installment in this brilliant new series.
From book blogger Karen Cole at Hair Past a Freckle 72 (18th Nov 2018)
I must admit to feeling a little daunted when I first picked up None So Blind; at well over 400 pages long I knew it wasn’t going to be a quick read and wondered whether the historical facts in this crime novel would prove to be a little too dense.
I needn’t have worried for though Alis Hawkins has written a book which brings to life the period and vividly details the societal challenges and upheavals of the time, it never becomes a dry history lesson and I was completely engrossed by this beautifully written story. It was one of those novels which captured my thoughts completely and even when I wasn’t reading it, I found my mind wandering back to West Wales and to the mystery behind a young woman’s death.
The main protagonists in None So Blind are far from the usual characters who try to uncover the truth about a death and I loved reading a crime novel with such an original premise to the investigation. Harry’s recent diagnosis means he has to come to terms with losing his sight and what that means both personally and professionally. He engages the help of a clerk, John Davies out of necessity and the juxtaposition between their places in society and Harry’s belief that they can interact as equals is absolutely fascinating and a real glimpse into the long-held positions of the time and the sense that things are beginning to change. Chapters are told from both their perspectives and it soon becomes clear that both men are hiding just what they know about the untimely end of the young woman whose bones were found buried under a tree.
It’s not just Harry and John who are keeping secrets, however, the book is teeming with them as it becomes impossible to know who can be trusted and just why so many people are seemingly determined to block the course of justice. This is where the historical elements really come into play, as the traditional practice of the ceffyl pren and the tumultuous events that occurred during the Rebecca Riots of the past are brought back into focus with some people are prepared to take any steps necessary to prevent their previous actions coming to light. This small community knows more than it’s letting on and there’s an increasingly unsettling tension to the novel as it becomes ever more obvious that Harry and John’s persistence is potentially leading them into danger.
The rich descriptions coupled with the smattering of Welsh words interspersed throughout the novel conjure up the setting so magnificently, I was transported back in time to the Teifi Valley. None So Blind is exactly what I’m hoping for when I read historical crime; Alis Hawkins evokes the attitudes and traditions of the region at that time with an assured authenticity which means the intriguing mystery at the heart of the story becomes a riveting and poignant search for the truth. Atmospheric, compelling and thought-provoking – I highly recommend None So Blind and am now eagerly looking forward to reading the next book in The Teifi Valley Coroner series!
From book blogger Linda Green at Books of All Kinds (17th Nov 2018) :
The beginning of a gripping new series, NONE SO BLIND by Alis Hawkins is a historical crime fiction story brimming with that extra special something that keeps you sitting up into the wee hours to devour it.
Set in Wales in 1850, a horrifying discovery awaits those who dig up a tree, for a woman’s bones lies hidden beneath. A community shocked closes rank especially when a young barrister, Harry Probert-Lloyd and his clerk, John Davies, seem determined to uncover the truth. For Harry knows whose bones they are and will do whatever it takes to bring the culprits to justice.
Riveting, intricate, and completely unputdownable, NONE SO BLIND by Alis Hawkins has everything you need for a cracking mystery to tickle your senses. The characters are fascinating and watching the relationship between Harry and John was interesting from all angles.
I love historical crime fiction but there is always a worry that the setting and historical detail can become a little boring or repetitive, so I’m delighted to tell you that this is not the case with NONE SO BLIND. Every word has a purpose and a knack for sticking in your mind and I admire Alis Hawkins for this talent to transport readers back in time.
NONE SO BLIND by Alis Hawkins is a superb novel that is perfect for historical readers and crime fiction readers alike and I highly recommend it. I cannot wait for the next instalment!!
NB – this review was of the original, Freight Books edition of None So Blind. Following the publisher’s ceasing to trade, the series was acquired by The Dome Press, publisher of the current edition.
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.