The Running Wolf

Written by Helen Steadman
Review by Kate Pettigrew

Master sword-maker Hermann Mohll is forced to flee Solingen in Germany in the 1680s as work dries up. He follows what keeps his profession alive – war – and lands in England with other migrants to set up a sword-making community in Shotley Bridge, County Durham. But he has broken vows to the sword-making guild which protected him and discovers that becoming an independent sword-maker is not an easy way to keep him and his family out of poverty.

Hermann is based on one of Shotley Bridge’s real sword-makers, and we follow his travails over almost 20 years. The wolf of the title refers to the maker’s mark on Hermann’s swords, a wolf running towards battle, and is also a reference to Hermann and his family running towards what they hope is a brighter future.

However, in the run-up to the 1715 Jacobite rising, Hermann is caught smuggling swords and ends up in Morpeth gaol for treason, facing hanging, drawing and quartering.

The book is told through the alternate voices of Hermann and Robert, his gaoler. Robert is puzzled when Queen Anne’s right-hand man, the Earl of Nottingham, takes an interest in Hermann’s case. Robert thinks he knows everything about his prisoner. But does he?

Helen Steadman obviously carried out a lot of meticulous research for her book, including learning the difficult art of making a sword herself and meeting a descendant of our hero. Her writing is at its best when descriptive, such as Hermann’s smuggling, a particularly effective skating scene on the river, and the sword-making process. An unusual novel that brings a little-known area of history and its craftsmen to life.