Children of Fire by Paul C.W. Beatty – a well written historical novel with a large element of crime

 

The earliest police force in the person of Josiah Ainscough had many challenges. This particular police officer finds himself in the rural setting of the North West of England in the early days of Victoria’s reign. Industries such as the manufacture of gunpowder for mining and quarrying is still developing.  The religious life of the country is unsettled, and Josiah has been brought up as the adopted son of a Methodist minister and his wife. His background of a solid education and his journey across Europe have not, despite expectations, prepared him for the ministry; instead he has joined a police force which is still trying to find acceptance by society. He also carries a burden of guilt from his travels, but has retained some good and useful friends from his childhood. His first job is unofficial, yet it will soon become a dangerous situation as he is called on to use all his skills, ingenuity and strength to deal with convoluted events. His beliefs and emotions are also challenged as two women, Rachael and Aideen, come to represent two ways of life. I found this a gripping story with many intriguing elements and a great depth of historical research. The characters are memorable and well drawn, and the setting beautifully realised. I really enjoyed reading this book, and am grateful to have the opportunity to review it. 

 

The book opens in February 1841, as an unknown figure observes and narrates an explosion at a mill, which that individual was obviously was responsible for detonating. In June Josiah appears, making a less than impressive showing as a police officer. Fortunately he is sent to an investigation of a wealthy landowner’s son in a nearby area. He is specifically asked to go to a Christian community called “Children of Fire”, where he meets a young woman called Rachael and encounters the impressive Elijah who runs the community. When a tragedy occurs and Josiah resolves to track down those responsible, he is also invited to a dinner party where he meets some strong personalities, including the combative Mr. Arlon, and the enthralling Aideen. He at last meets the young man he was sent to assess, Abram, and begins his investigations at the powder mill. It transpires that the making of gunpowder is a complex procedure, but that innovations have transformed the applications so that blasting in quarries and mines can be more controlled. Danger seems to go with Josiah’s investigations, and those around him become involved in seeking the truth.

 

This is a well written book with plenty of action and events. The character of Josiah is really engaging, with a solid basis of reality and always interesting. He comes from a stable background and has some useful life experience. He is resourceful and determined, with moral concerns but also realistic feelings for both Rachael and Aileen. His guilt over a past relationship affects his life, but does not limit it. The other characters are well drawn, even the minor ones. It is possible to visualise the setting and the countryside around the action of the novel easily. There are minor proofreading issues, but this does not detract from the overall very good writing, plot and characterisation. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a crime element and strong women who change lives.