The east of England in the summer of 1954. Jimmy Devlin, aged 30, lives off his wits in a peripatetic hand-to-mouth existence, finding work and money wherever it comes. Following the disastrous floods of 1953, he gets work building up sea defences and improving drainage along the coast, and meets a variety of unsavoury characters that, like him, live at the very margins of society, most often falling into criminality and deception. Devlin is not as sharp as he thinks he is and descends into a vortex of crime and personal danger in the local criminal community. “Honour among thieves” is a code that does not seem to apply to 1950s Lincolnshire, and as Devlin looks to exact revenge on those who have wronged him, he gets even more entrapped in the web of illegality. Each time he feels that he is beginning to settle in a place and occupation, then events serve to turf him out and he becomes unwanted.
Robert Edric’s historical fiction novels are usually staffed by unsavoury, marginal characters, and the tone is not terribly uplifting. This story is no exception, and it shows an almost Hobbesian dog-eat-dog battle for survival. But it is well written and superbly researched. The language and feel of the desolate eastern edge of rural England in the still austere times following the end of the Second World War are wonderfully rendered.