Mad Blood Stirring

Written by Simon Mayo
Review by Cathy Kemp

The turn of the year 1815 sees the little-remembered war with America end, though the peace treaty has yet to be ratified. In the depths of the British winter, an unfortunate group of bedraggled sailors from The Eagle are marched across Dartmoor to be incarcerated within the walls of the forbidding granite edifice, an already overcrowded prison complex with a fearful reputation. Despite their ability to live and work alongside their fellow sailors of African origin whilst on board their ships, the prison blocks have been segregated into six for white sailors and one for non-whites.

Amongst the inevitable bouts of disease, disorder, bullying and gambling expected within such a large group of men, the black prisoners are seen to have a modicum of respect for their block leader, King Dick. He sets the acceptable limits of behaviour and deals harshly with those who stray, whilst being creative in occupying their talents with a dramatic group who put on Shakespearian plays for the inmates. The block welcomes the young Joe Hill, a 16-year-old lad, recently arrived on The Eagle, and he is assigned the lead female role of Juliet in their production of Romeo and Juliet. The Governor has little understanding of the current powder keg awaiting a fuse to ignite the unrest in his prison. He is also ignorant of the true nature of the relationship between his wife and the prison doctor.

Though an established author of children and young adult books, this is Simon Mayo’s first adult novel. He creates a compelling tale using some of the key events, capturing the mood to give an engaging, yet chilling story with hope, love and suffering intertwined.