Not One Of Us (The Teifi Valley Coroner Series, 4)

Written by Alis Hawkins
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

Teifi Valley, Wales, 1851. Harry Probert-Lloyd, though only 27, has been forced back from London by failing eyesight to his lands at Glanteifi. As coroner and landowner, he is supported by John Davies, his assistant coroner and under-steward. The fourth book in Hawkins’s Teifi Valley Coroner series is told in alternating voices by Harry and John, their narratives becoming progressively more tightly woven. The two investigate the unexplained death of a 19-year-old girl, the beautiful daughter of a tenant farmer. She had been pursued by a number of young men, with an Englishman amongst them arousing particular resentment in his rivals; this is a community in which workmen from Llandysul being employed in Newcastle Emlyn are regarded as outsiders, even though they come from only eight miles distant.

Distracted by his work as a coroner and conscious that Glanteifi is at risk of bankruptcy, Harry turns his failing eyes from the pitiless actions his steward takes to make the land pay. Tragedy results, but with it comes a form of epiphany for Harry. Then a body is dragged from the river—there is no doubt this time that this was murder.

Hawkins’s novel is impeccably researched; she draws on a startlingly rich vein of knowledge of courting rituals and superstitions, from birch crowns to courting sacks and ‘washing the midnight shirt.’ In this remote area mid-19th-century medicine keeps company with long-held beliefs and customs, but farmhouse weaving sheds are already overshadowed by the development of machinery—on display in all its might at the Great Exhibition—that will literally change the warp and weft of rural life forever. Not One of Us is an engrossing read, ingeniously plotted, with an utterly absorbing sense of place and time.