Children of Fire
Can Josiah solve the puzzle before more people die, or is he out of his depth?
In 1841, at the height of the industrial revolution in the North West of England, Josiah Ainscough returns from his travels and surprises everyone by joining the Stockport Police Force, rather than following his adopted father’s footsteps into the Methodist ministry.
While Josiah was abroad, five men died in an explosion at the Furness Vale Powder Mill. Was this an accident or did the Children of Fire, a local religious community, have a hand in it. As Josiah struggles to find his vocation, his investigation into the Children of Fire begins. But his enquiries are derailed by the horrific crucifixion of the community’s leader.
Now Josiah must race against time to solve the puzzle of the violence loose in the Furness Vale before more people die. This is complicated by his affections for Rachael, a leading member of the Children of Fire, and the vivacious Aideen Hayes, a visitor from Ireland.
Can Josiah put together the pieces of the puzzle, or is he out of his depth? Children of Fire won the Writing Magazine’s Best Novel Prize for 2017
Thanks to Rachel for organising the book blitz and to the author for sending me a copy of this novel.
I found this book easy to get into and I found the social and religious setting fascinating. The 1840s weren’t a brilliant time for anyone not well off. They were called the hungry forties for a reason. There was also a lot of religious turmoil as Anglicanism found itself challenged by newer denominations while still having the social upper hand. Increased migration from Ireland into England after the famines of the 1830s added another element to the mix. People did what people always do, and became very sectarian. In conjunction with the continued fight for working class rights, machine smashing and the subsequent crack down by authorities and employers, it was a volatile atmosphere. Smaller Protestant groups were often accused of encouraging the lower classes to question their ordained place.
Into this complex social whirl we have the conflicted young police constable, Josiah Ainscough. He is troubled by his decision, against the wishes of his adopted parents – a Methodist minister and his wife – to become a policeman. The municipal police force is a new concept and most of the populace are unsure of the need. Most of his colleagues are old soldiers. He’s also troubled by his misstep in Spain. He fears his parents’ disappointment.
Away in the hills is the religious community of Long Clough, home to the Children of Fire. They’ve been linked to an explosion at a powder mill which killed five men. They have disputes with other mill owners about workers’ rights, especially women and children.
Josiah must infiltrate this community, get enough information to help the mill owners prosecute or otherwise deal with the community, and do it unofficially. He’s young, unknown as a policeman and as a Methodist the local magistrates can write him off if he gets caught.
And then there’s a murder.
Josiah is forced to identify himself and is asked by the local magistrate to investigate the crime.
The story follows from there as Josiah finds new clues and meets the locals in his official capacity.
I enjoyed the setting and plot. It’s a time most people don’t really learn about so the historical details are interesting. The description of landscape is evocative and the landscape is important to the plot as a source of conflict and comfort.
The characters are unexpected. The Hailsworths, Rachel and Josiah are all very decent people in contrast to Arlon. This sets up a bit of conflict. I didn’t expect the Hailsworths to be decent but they are a contrast to the grasping Arlon. The personality clashes introduced potential villains and confusion: is it Arlon or one of his men who are responsible? Or is Hailsworth a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
I found Josiah’s developing relationship with Rachael rather sweet and his development as a police constable dramatic. His growing confidence in his skill as he follows leads and avoids being murdered is fairly realistic. As is his self-doubt and confusion about his actions in Spain and Long Clough. He’s a very rounded character.
I read quite a lot of this book in one sitting but then had to stop because my head was doing weird things – painful flashes across my right temple that I haven’t had in years, and clusters of them rather than one that lasts a few minutes then fade. I got back to it the next day though because I needed to know who killed Elijah and if Josiah would survive his investigation.
I don’t like to be critical but it’s part of the job. There were some editing errors that made odd sentences hard to parse but didn’t distract greatly from the text. Also, in the historical notes, the author got the date of Waterloo and Peterloo wrong. I know because it was a period in time I hyperfocused on at one point.
Author Bio –
Paul CW Beatty is an unusual
combination of a novelist and a research scientist. Having worked for many
years in medical research in the UK NHS and Universities, a few years ago he
took an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University emerging
with a distinction.
His latest novel, Children of Fire, is a Victorian murder mystery set in 1841 at the height of the industrial revolution. It won the Writing Magazine’s Best Novel Award in November 2017 and is published by The Book Guild Ltd.
Paul lives near Manchester in the northwest of England. Children of Fire is set against the hills of the Peak District as well as the canals and other industrial infrastructure of the Cottonopolis know as the City of Manchester.
Social Media Links – Twitter @cw_beatty