Havoc in its Third Year

Written by Ronan Bennett
Review by L.K. Mason

“Men must have mercy, for without mercy we are savages.” So believed John Brigge’s mother, and so believes John Brigge, a coroner in northern England in the early 17th century. In contrast to Brigge’s philosophy, John Brigge’s friend the Master is slowly turning toward Puritanical justice, in his third year of rule. When a vagrant papist Irishwoman is accused of infanticide, the Master and other more severe town leaders have already determined that she should hang, but Brigge insists that proper procedures must be followed. As a papist and a moderate, Brigge fears not only for future of his town, but now for his life as well. Will he give in to conniving and plots to save his family and his own neck, or stay true to his beliefs in mercy and justice? This was an absolutely riveting novel, which I was loath to put down. Bennett’s writing accurately captures the voice of the time; the narrative flows as though John Brigge himself wrote it.

Yet the story resonates subtly with current events of the twenty-first century: fanaticism and its dangers know no historical constraint. Havoc in Its Third Year is not a peaceful tale; these were violent times and the violence within this story was sometimes unrelenting, particularly early in the book. This gripping tale is not for the faint of heart or stomach.