Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Those Who Know by Alis Hawkins, the third in The Teifi Valley Coroner series. My thanks to Emily at The Dome Press for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy.
About the Book
Harry Probert-Lloyd has inherited the estate of Glanteifi and appointed his assistant John as under-steward. But his true vocation, to be coroner, is under threat. Against his natural instincts, Harry must campaign if he is to be voted as coroner permanently by the local people and politicking is not his strength.
On the hustings, Harry and John are called to examine the body of Nicholas Rowland, a radical and pioneering schoolteacher whose death may not be the accident it first appeared. What was Rowland’s real relationship with his eccentric patron, Miss Gwatkyn? And why does Harry’s rival for the post of coroner deny knowing him? Harry’s determination to uncover the truth threatens to undermine both his campaign and his future.
Format: Paperback (348 pages) Publisher: The Dome Press
Publication date: 28th September 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Crime
Find Those Who Know (Teifi Valley Coroner #3) on Goodreads
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I really enjoyed None So Blind, the first book in Alis Hawkins’ Teifi Valley Coroner series, and I’m kicking myself that I’ve not yet made time to read the second in the series, In Two Minds. However, it does mean I can reassure readers who haven’t read the previous books that Those Who Know can easily be enjoyed as a standalone. That’s not to say there aren’t a few references to events in the earlier books but these are subtly done. In fact, the appearance of characters who were new to me, such as Doctor Reckitt and Lydia Howell, made me even more eager to go back and read In Two Minds.
It was a delight to catch up with Harry and John again. As before, they narrate alternate chapters giving a sense of pace to the book and providing the reader with different views of events, an insight into their perspective on each other, and on what has become an unique working relationship. I was touched once more by John’s anticipation of Harry’s needs, not just the help Harry requires to overcome his visual impairment but his desire to be independent and not the subject of people’s curiosity or pity. Equally touching is Harry’s faith in John and his appreciation for his abilities despite John’s humble birth and troubled upbringing.
Although the book sees them occasionally pursuing their enquiries independently, they’re at their most formidable when working as a team, such as during interviews of witnesses when they adopt a “good cop, bad cop” approach. Or when John acts as Harry’s eyes, as he does during the inquest into Nicholas Rowland’s death, signalling by his posture whether Harry should press ahead with a line of questioning or desist.
The inquest is just one of the great set pieces in the book. Others include the dramatic night-time scene when the cefyll pren or wooden horse (a traditional form of folk justice that also made a memorable appearance in None So Blind) is taken to the house of someone the villagers believe may have been involved in Rowland’s death. “Daylight restraints are loosened after dark, anger rises in the blood and darkness releases animal instincts.“
Skilfully woven into the main storyline are nuggets of information about Welsh history. Okay, the 1847 Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales may not sound that interesting but, believe me, you may be surprised at its relevance to the plot.
The author is a Welsh speaker and I particularly enjoyed the part the Welsh language plays in the book. As John explains, the aforementioned 1847 report branded the speaking of Welsh as not only “holding the whole nation back” but of “encouraging backward thinking and immorality”. At the time the book is set, Welsh is considered the language of the ordinary people not of the “gentry” who speak English. Therefore, the people Harry comes across in the course of his investigation are often surprised that he, a member of the gentry, is able to converse with them in their native tongue. During the inquest, the difficulty of translating the evidence of some witnesses from English to Welsh for the jury is revealed. As John observes, “Welsh isn’t a scientific language. English is good as absolutes. Science. Welsh is better at poetry and metaphor and a different kind of truth. Not one that’s clear cut and neat…but messy and bloody and confusing. Like life.“
Those Who Know has all the elements you look for in a mystery: a perplexing crime scene, an unknown motive, a victim with secrets in his past and an array of possible suspects. Before long, links also begin to emerge between Harry’s campaign for election as Coroner and the investigation into Rowland’s death. But do the electors want a Coroner who, as one character puts it, “sees doubt where everybody else sees death”? Not everyone, least of all the local magistrates, approves of Harry’s dogged pursuit of the truth, hammering away at “the stone of unexplained death” with question after question until the “unyielding stone finally gives way and the truth is uncovered”.
I can highly recommend The Teifi Valley Coroner series to fans of historical crime fiction. Like its predecessors, Those Who Know combines an intriguing mystery, engaging leading characters and convincing period detail. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another book in the series before too long.
In three words: Assured, intriguing, atmospheric
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About the Author
Alis Hawkins grew up on a dairy farm in Cardiganshire. After attending the local village primary school and Cardigan County Secondary School, she left West Wales to read English at Oxford. Subsequently, she has done various things with her life, including becoming a speech and language therapist, bringing up two sons, selling burgers, working with homeless people, and helping families to understand their autistic children.
And writing. Always. Non-fiction (autism related), plays (commissioned by heritage projects) and, of course, novels. Alis’ first novel, Testament, was published in 2008 by Macmillan and was translated into several languages. Her current historical crime series featuring visually impaired investigator, Harry Probert-Lloyd, and his chippy assistant, John Davies, is set in Cardiganshire in the period directly after the Rebecca Riots. As a side-effect of setting her series there, instead of making research trips to sunny climes like more foresighted writers, she drives up the M4 to see her family.
Now living with her partner on the wrong side of the Welsh/English border (though she sneaks back over to work for the National Autistic Society in Monmouthshire), Alis speaks Welsh, collects rucksacks and can’t resist an interesting fact.
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