Circles of Deceit by Paul CW Beatty
The second novel from the Josiah Ainscough casebook is a revealing historical novel of troubled times in the north of England in the 1840s, seen from the point of view of a young man who is involved in keeping the peace. Although not the first book which features Josiah, this book stands alone in terms of virtually all of the characters and setting. This is a fast paced book which tells some of the stories of the movements calling for reform in workers’ conditions. Not that it is a dry story; those fighting for the Chartist and other causes are given identities and back stories, and Josiah becomes involved in not only the police action to identify their activities, but also finds some sympathy with their cause. Josiah is involved with the newly formed police force in Stockport, but an unfortunate incident means that he is put on very different duties. This is not a long book, but the story it contains is detailed on the strikes or “turn outs” and some of the disturbances both fictional and real are vividly described. The links between people and places, events and disturbances are brought out in this well paced story. The character of Josiah’s particular friend Dianne, his need for full discovery, and much more keep this story as a real page turner, full of twists as not everyone is acting in the best interests of justice. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
The book begins with meetings in which support for the Chartist cause is being solicited from various people. The authorities are nervous of any upheaval in the mills and mines of the north of England- the Peterloo protest was within living memory, and apart from the economic loss represented by strikes and other industrial action, the revolutionary events of France was a source of genuine fear. As different factions clash and the authorities strive to keep control. Josiah finds himself in the midst of a battle in a meeting room, trying to protect some children and then a celebrity rebel. In the process he encounters the amazing Dianne and discovers that her involvement is not a one off, but part of a long term programme to actively protest against the poor pay and conditions experienced by workers. Josiah discovers something of a conspiracy exists, and there is a real danger to those he knows and admires. Experiencing attacks and difficulties, he moves around the area and meets many people of different conditions. With codes and dangers to deal with, Josiah must concentrate all his efforts to make a difference. The mills and other areas are well described, including some places that still exist.
I found that this book was really compelling, and kept me turning the pages as I was keen to find out what happens to Josiah and those he knows to a greater or lesser extent. I also enjoyed the side stories, at least one of which had much to say about the vulnerability of women which is still recognisable today. The character of Dianne is a real revelation, being a vivid character, full of independent thought and determination. I enjoyed the story of Josiah, intelligent understanding of what is really going on, doing the right thing even if that is not always the easiest path. This book is far less mystical than the previous adventure, and the historical research is impressive though never slows the action. I recommend this to those who enjoy some social historical fiction, with the elements of a thriller and murder mystery featuring a memorable set of characters.