A Lawless Place (Contraband Shore)
The sequel to Donachie’s The Contraband Shore (2017), this novel is set in and around Deal (where the author lives) in 1787. Naval captain Edward Brazier is fighting smugglers on the East Kent coast, whilst trying desperately to rescue Betsey Langridge, the woman he loves, from the forced marriage into which she has been tricked by her brother—himself a smuggler. In the characterisation of both Brazier’s loyal band and his quarry, this novel nods respectfully towards Jamaica Inn, in that sometimes some of the outwardly most upstanding members of society are the least honest.
This is a rip-roaring read, thoroughly researched, in which Brazier’s struggles against the odds and against his own misgivings (‘it was common knowledge [that smuggling] supported communities that might otherwise have struggled to exist’) are set against a wider context (a newly-independent America, the slave trade, Britain’s relationship with France). Yet the novel never reads like a history lesson; history is told through the memories of the characters and their shared experiences. Sometimes idiosyncrasies of sentence structure made for a less smooth read for this reviewer: ‘No one would, of course, tell him, to his face, such a thing’ could instead have been rendered: ‘Of course no one would tell him such a thing to his face’, but the dialogue convinces utterly and is free of anachronisms. In common with other novels written as part of a series, this one is not quite self-contained; a challenge described early in the book is not fully resolved by the end, so the reader must wait for the next volume.