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Mr. Smith here does for Victorian England what his Arkady Renko series has done for Russia over the last twenty years--renders it accessible & makes it fascinating.
It's 1872 and Jonathan Blair is a disgraced African explorer & mining engineer who longs to return to Africa & find his half-black (hence, the disgrace) daughter. His patron, Bishop Hannay, offers him the means to return if he will first undertake a bit of detective work. Bishop Hannay's daughter is engaged to marry a young cleric, John Maypole who has gone missing in the coal mining town of Wigan. Blair takes up the search, but soon finds that he's the only one who actually wants to find the missing man.
As in the Renko series, one of the great strengths of the book is that Blair is so powerless in the face of resistance from the mine owners, their henchman, the Bishop's daughter, the Church and the miners themselves. This aspect of having the "detective" work outside of the powers that be, rather than be an agent of those powers is an extremely effective device in adding an extra layer of tension to the story.
-ESSAY: Living in the Dead Zone (MARTIN CRUZ SMITH, 12/22/04, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of DECEMBER 6 By Martin Cruz Smith (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)
Book-related and General Links:
-Working in a Coal Mine (Salon)
-INTERVIEW : The SALON Interview - Martin Cruz Smith (Salon)