What an absolutely cracking read – cracking on every level, full of interesting things I didn’t know about the Great Frost of 1708-9 and what life was like for ordinary poor country folk, wonderful, realistic, characters, mysterious deaths and murder, creepy sinister priests, arrogant gentlemen, highwaymen… Chris Speck’s latest brilliant novel is called ‘The Great Frost: three murders a village lass and a highwayman’, and here is the Amazon blurb:
The East Riding of Yorkshire 1709.
The tiny village of North Burton. It’s March.
In years to come they will call it The Great Frost.
Meg and Nana know the cold will get worse – because everything always does. Meg’s husband is away at war, the roof is about to fall in and Carrick, the big rector up at St Michael’s, says the cold is a punishment for their sins.
When a wounded highwayman bangs on their door in the night, and they take him in, they don’t realise just how much worse it will get.
Chris is an absolute master at portraying character, the evil, the good-hearted, the ordinary, the hopeless, the privileged, the weak, those with such strength of character they do remarkable things, those with a cruel indifference to the struggles and sufferings of others, and those who do what they can to get by and survive in a very unequal world. Meg the main character is just an ordinary woman whose life of grinding poverty does not stop from her doing what she knows is right and what she has to to save herself, the unpleasant old woman she lives with and the small boy she looks after – and the cat! Not many male authors can write a woman character as realistically and believably as Chris does with Meg, and old Nana, and Mrs Farthing – and the other women characters. His male characters are similarly realistic and believable, the good, the very bad, and the unbelievably ugly, all ring true. The sheer misery of living through such dreadful conditions is horribly vivid and the frozen countryside wonderfully described as the setting for what happens. Despite the poverty and the cold, this isn’t a book which wears you down with the sheer soul-breaking grind of being poor and desperate in extreme conditions.
The plot is clever, complicated enough but not so tortuous that you can’t follow it or have to keep looking back to check what has happened. As I said at the beginning, it’s a cracking read, I had to keep reading one more chapter, one more, just one more, even when I was falling asleep – I had to know what happened to Meg, and the highwayman, and the evil vicar! The ending was perfect, just when I thought I knew what had happened and was winding down from the excitement of the dramatic few chapters leading to the end, there was more, and a completely unexpected yet believable conclusion – which I won’t even hint at!
Here is a link to the book: