Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers

Written by Mari Strachan
Review by Elizabeth Jane

The war is over, but it has left its mark on the tiny West Wales village of Non and her family. Men are lost, some without a trace. Widows and grieving mothers find themselves endlessly searching. So does Non. For although Davey has returned, he is distant and troubled – no longer the gentle widower she married. As Non watches him crouch beneath the kitchen table, an imaginary gun to his shoulder, she cannot fathom the terrible changes in him. Neither can she imagine, in the long hot summer of 1921, that her search will take her back and forth, across country, and into the spirit world beyond. Or anticipate the damage some truths might unwittingly cause.

Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers is a mystical novel, filled with endearing, quirky characters who, though unique, may be found in any small village – their tale being universal. A tale of blended families, relentless grief, disability, the need to know and terrible secrets, set against a backdrop of misguided love and mythology.

The setting of this novel is tactile and evocative, the tale quietly compelling. The political spirit of times is also faithfully recreated. But above all, this story is a triumph of the ordinary. Strachan takes the fragile threads of village and family life and juxtaposes them against medical science, herb lore and spiritualist practices, to explore themes of truth and meaning. If at times, Non feels a little older than she is supposed to be on the page, we can forgive the author, for it is still a pleasure to be in her company. This accessible literary novel is certainly worth reading.