Good morning, bookworm, it’s lovely to see you on a Monday morning – nothing sets my week up better than talking books over a steaming mug of coffee with a fellow literature lover. Wait… did you hear that? It sounded like something creaking but I don’t see anything. The cats are snoozing, the dragons are out exercising their wings and the books are all… ah, I bet I know what it is: I moved some of the Historical Fiction and Classics around a little to make some space for Circles of Deceit by Paul C.W. Beatty and the Conrads are unhappy at being dropped to the second shelf. I hope this doesn’t mean they’re planning some mischief as revenge. Why don’t you have a blueberry muffin with your coffee while I keep a watchful eye on the bookshelves and tell you all about Circles of Deceit?
Firstly, here’s the blurb: Murder, conspiracy, radicalism, poverty, riot, violence, capitalism, technology: everything is up for grabs in the early part of Victoria’s reign.
Radical politicians, constitutional activists and trade unionists are being professionally assassinated. When Josiah Ainscough of the Stockport Police thwarts an attempt on the life of the Chartist leader, Feargus O’Connor, he receives public praise, but earns the enmity of the assassin, who vows to kill him.
‘Circles of Deceit’, the second of Paul CW Beatty’s Constable Josiah Ainscough’s historical murder mysteries, gives a superb and electric picture of what it was to live in 1840s England. The novel is set in one of the most turbulent political periods in British history, 1842-1843, when liberties and constitutional change were at the top of the political agenda, pursued using methods fair or foul.
Here’s a little about the author: Paul CW Beatty is an unusual combination of a novelist and a research scientist. Having worked for many years in medical research in the UK NHS and Universities, a few years ago he took an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University emerging with a distinction.
His latest novel, Children of Fire, is a Victorian murder mystery set in 1841 at the height of the industrial revolution. It won the Writing Magazine’s Best Novel Award in November 2017 and is published by The Book Guild Ltd.
Paul lives near Manchester in the northwest of England. Children of Fire is set against the hills of the Peak District as well as the canals and other industrial infrastructure of the Cottonopolis know as the City of Manchester.
And here’s my review: My first introduction to historical fiction was via the Classics, especially Charles Dickens in my first year of high school. I appreciate that those authors were writing about their current time period rather than modern historical fiction authors relying on research to capture life in previous centuries, but Dickens opened up a whole new world to me. Learning about the industrial revolution in history then reading Dickens accounts of the same societal changes through his characters fuelled my enthusiasm to learn about our heritage. Picking up Paul C.W. Beatty’s Circles of Deceit allowed me to experience that enthusiasm all over again.
I’m always a little nervous when I read a book that’s not the first in its series in case I don’t engage with the characters, or I don’t understand what’s happened previously. I needn’t have worried in this case, as the story can definitely be read as a standalone. I connected with Josiah Ainscough within the first few pages as his bravery and modesty shone through. Ainscough’s strong moral compass causes him to struggle with the path he has to follow in order to prevent further violence and keep those he cares for safe.
The cast of characters, even the minor ones, all had their parts to play in the story and were woven into a vibrant tapestry of class divide, oppression, greed and revenge. I often found myself losing track of time as I read and could almost hear the hubbub of anxious workers during industrial disputes. The story moves swiftly along as anger and uncertainty boil over into violent clashes and fear, sweeping me along with it as Ainscough struggles to keep his dual lives apart.
Beatty presents the harsh conditions of the mill workers amongst the explosive political backdrop, truly bringing that period of history to life for me again. As the characters discussed the Chartist movement and changes they hoped to see, I remembered learning a tiny bit about them at school and wished I could have read Circles of Deceit to help me understand more about their manifesto and struggles rather than skimming through a couple of paragraphs in a history textbook.
I’ve been bowled over by the detail and research in this book and am giving this a strong 4 / 5 stars. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys not only historical fiction but blending learning with literature. If you think this novel is for you, click on the image above to go to the relevant page on Amazon. I don’t receive anything for sharing the link, I’m just being a helpful bookworm. Thank you to the author, Conrad Press and Rachel’s Random Resources for the copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.
Goodness, what a clatter! It seems the screws have mysteriously become loose on the top shelf so the books filed under A and B have toppled to the ground. Leaving the Conrads top of the bookshelves again… I’d better go before the Austens and Brontes become hysterical and need smelling salts, let alone the historical fiction books whose characters will stop at nothing to wreak revenge. Now, where did those sneaky books on the C-E shelf hide the screwdriver? Until next time, bookworm, farewell!