THE DEVIL’S HIGHWAY
by Hannah March
Reviewed by Rachel
Robert Fairfax, itinerant tutor, sometime sleuth and hero of Complaint of the Dove is back again. It is 1761 and he has a new position to take up; cataloguing the library of a country gentleman in Lincolnshire. The road along which they are travelling is notorious as the haunt of a highwayman and soon they discover some of his handiwork for the London to Stamford stagecoach lies overturned in a ditch and all three of the occupants have been shot dead. The driver lingers a few moments only and whispers that they have indeed been the victims of the dreaded highwayman. But more surprises await them, as one of the people is not the unpopular local banker but somebody disguised as him, another is an escaped lunatic and where is the third passenger, the mysterious and missing Mrs Parry?
An enthusiastic Methodist preacher, a greedy miser with a private army and an over-jolly private asylum owner are just three of the other characters in this teasing tale. The plot veers this way and that and I for one didn’t manage to guess it all. March writes in an engaging, easy-to-read style and draws the reader in from the very beginning to her well-spun web of a story. She is adept at delineating characters with just a few telling phrases and although one of the underlying themes of the novel is the unenviable lack of freedom known by women in those times – and men too if they didn’t have money or position – it enhances rather than detracts from the plot. This was a well-paced, exciting book and I eagerly await the third instalment of Fairfax’s adventures A Distinction of Blood.
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