The Mauricewood Devils

Written by Dorothy Alexander
Review by Elicia Parkinson

In 1889, a coal pit fire broke out in the Mauricewood Colliery in Scotland. As the fire spread, over 60 of the 70 men in the coal pit tragically died. Presumably this isn’t a disaster familiar to many outside of Scotland, and to my knowledge, it is not frequently written about. The Mauricewood Colliery fire is the backdrop to Dorothy Alexander’s debut novel.

The story begins with Martha, daughter of one of the men who perished in the coal pit. Her mother died in childbirth, and now she and her sister, Helen, have to live with their grandparents. Jess, their stepmother, unable to adopt the girls on her own, also has a story to tell, and the book alternates between their perspectives, showing the reader the different ways these characters deal with the tragedy—Martha, through a series of dreams and waking fantasies about when she heard about the coal pit fire and the different possible outcomes; and Jess, whose grief is shown through real documents and primary sources the author researched in building her characters

As someone who did not know anything previously about this cataclysmic event, the subsequent reclamation of the bodies, or the legal battle that took place following the fire, Alexander’s novel provided all of the necessary information without detracting from the story itself. It’s a sad story, made more so by the knowledge that it’s based on true events. I would have liked more detail about Scotland in the late 19th century than was provided, but I had no issues becoming involved in the characters’ lives. The experimental way in which Alexander chose to write her novel may be non-traditional, but it works exceptionally well; I look forward to reading more of Alexander’s work in the future.