Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Greays Hill by Jon Beattiey


Back Cover Description

The Border country - a wild moorland barrier between the Scots and English - had, in the late 18th century started to settle down after years of lawlessness. Reivers, the vagabond thieves who plundered across the Cheviots, had all but disappeared. Jack Charlton is an independent drover, herding cattle across the fells of Northumbria, living largely on his wits with his companion, Phillips, a feisty red haired Scot. On a grim stormy night in an out-of-the way hostelry, he hears of the passing of his Aunt Meg, a spinster owning a hundred acres of rough farmland and a dwelling, Greays Hill - a small fortified farmhouse. Jack accepts the challenge of his inheritance and begins his integration with the local community and the realisation that he needs a wife. Murder, mischief, intrigue and skulduggery abound alongside Jack's conquests, including the flirty and conniving Squire's daughter. Along the way he discovers whose son he really is - and has to deal with the tragic consequences. The narrative flows across the fells, from the Tyne to Jedburgh, explores bygone farming practices and the value of good sandstone, reveals both harsh realities and staunch friendships, brings the colour and flavour of the Northumbrian way of life and tells how the love of a girl can help a drover overcome all.

Review

Author Jon Beattiey has penned a enthralling tale about a young man who struggles to establish his life in the borderlands between Scotland and England. The story starts simply enough, but the plot begins to augment itself with several subplots. First, he must find a wife to help manage his dwelling called Greay’s Hill and three women attract his attention. Alison, Susan, and Tomassina, the squire’s daughter. As he learns more about each woman, and their characters are slowly revealed, he comes across a silver buckle and a set of silver spurs that his dead Aunt Meg had preserved. The land Greay’s Hill sits upon is rich with sandstone setting off greed and skullduggery amongst some of his neighbours.

What is most enjoyable about this novel was the setting and the way the mystery unfolds. The author’s ability to bring to life a lesser known area and culture enriches the tale. Secrets are slowly revealed, subplots become more complex, and the tension increases as the reader turns each page, culminating in an exciting, unpredictable ending. The characters are beautifully developed, especially Jack Charlton who is a likeable ladies man with a sensitive heart and logical decision maker.

My only caveat is that the dialogue in the novel is written in the Scottish vernacular of the borderlands, making reading the novel a bit of challenge, and as I neared the climax of the novel, when I was riding the high tide of excitement and wanted to keep flipping pages because long buried secrets and truths were revealed, the heavy dialect detracted and had me frustrated.

Nevertheless, this novel is definitely an excellent, highly recommended story with enough tension and mystery to keep readers interest from start to finish. Beautiful prose, lovely descriptions, and the realities of the harshness of life in the era and setting make this top-notch historical fiction.