It’s time to introduce you to another pair of the books I have particularly enjoyed this year getting five out of five stars each. A full list of my five star books can be found on my Librarything site – there’s a link to your right.
Like Michael Connelly’s Hieronymous ‘Harry’ Bosch and John Connolly’s Charlie Parker, Mosley’s protagonist Socrates Fortlow has a name to live up to, and like them, he certainly does.
Socrates is not a young man; he’s survived twenty seven years in jail for murder, and he now aims to spend his days trying to be helpful, to do good and not to be violent any more to help atone for his wrong-doing. However that violence is always still simmering underneath, and he’s not afraid to use it in self-defence or defence of his friends. He tries hard to make ends meet, finds a job, and mentors young Darryl who would otherwise be in a gang, and he’s a good peacemaker – even if he has to administer a punch or two to get it!
This is a series of short stories, some previously published in other sources. They only betray this by each having a few similar sentences to establish Socrates’ situation at the outset, but they all entwine and work beautifully as a chronological cycle of tales too. Socrates is a classic hard man with a soft centre, a good friend to those who know him well and a sympathetic hero with real depth. The first book I’d read by Mosley and an absolutely fantastic one.
Second this time is The Dig by John Preston. An absolutely superb novel of the story of the Sutton Hoo discovery just before WWII. In a sleepy town in Suffolk, Mrs Pretty, a widow, finally decides to have some tumuli on her land excavated. She gets in a local self-taught archaeologist, Basil Brown, who painstakingly digs away and reveals the sandy remains of a wooden ship – only the nails remain. But in step the men from the British Museum to take over the dig … but all rivalries eventually get put aside when they discover gold!
Each section of the story of this momentous dig is told from the changing main character of the time’s point of view, going from Mrs Pretty to Basil Brown and so on through the few months of the dig. The local museum man is understandably reluctant to hand over the dig to the experts from London who depart as soon as the treasures are found leaving Basil to wind things up again.
We all know the results from the amazing gold on display to this day in the British Museum, but the human story behind those involved in the dig is less well known, and for all the lack of big drama is compelling none the less. I recently found out that the aunt of the author John Preston, who writes for the Telegraph, was involved in the dig and she was the first person to find strike gold; the personal interest in the story was obviously a big factor in the writing of the novel.
What made this novel for me is that I went to visit the site maybe 15 yrs ago, and was treated to a fantastic talk by a volunteer and the dig itself was still live – the ship may have been discovered, but in the neighbouring field, they were trying to find out more about the way of life of the Anglo-Saxons who lived there.
A lovely gentle novel about gentlemen archaeologists and country life.
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Source: Own copies. To explore these books further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley, Serpent’s Tail paperback.
The Dig by John Preston, Penguin paperback.