Though Arkady Renko is absent from Smith's latest novel, the author of Red Square (1992), etc., has created instead a new protagonist, Jonathan Blair, a 19th-century man in the best muscular detective tradition. Until 1872, Blair was an avid explorer of Africa's Gold Coast, but now he has been exiled by his employer, Bishop Hannay, to the Lancashire mining town of Wigan. Blair's ostensible mission is to find John Rowland, the missing curate who was engaged to Hannay's daughter, but he quickly learns that he'll need all his bush survival skills just to stay alive in Wigan, where no one seems to want the curate found. Much of Blair's gritty charm lies in his hatred of all things English, just as he is hated in turn by the aristocratic Hannays, their peer relations, the Rowlands-and the miners. On the first day of his investigation, Blair steps on nearly every toe in a very touchy town, including those of Bill Jaxon, a miner skilled at a blood sport in which naked men fight with brass-studded clogs. Blair ends up on the wrong end of a clog more than once when he intuits that Jaxon's ""pit girl"" (a woman who sorts coal) may have lured the curate to his doom. Smith molds a spirited, sexy mystery and fires it with his characteristic love of atmosphere. But his real treat for readers is Blair, whose spicy observations imbue even this gray landscape with prismatic color, and whose verbal sparring matches with the Hannays and Rowlands are equal to Waugh in their hilarious, scathing send-up of English upper-class incivility. Smith's extravagant talent runs the spectrum here from sparkling dialogue and tantalizing mystery to grim, graphic depictions of mining life that sear both the conscience and the imagination. Simultaneous Random House Audio and large-print edition; author tour. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996 Release date: 04/01/1996 Genre: Fiction
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-679-45161-7
Paperback - 529 pages - 978-0-679-75878-5
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-345-41232-4
Hardcover - 978-84-08-02445-3
Mass Market Paperbound - 416 pages - 978-0-345-42252-1
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