cover image The Desert Crop

The Desert Crop

Catherine Cookson. Simon & Schuster, $23 (319pp) ISBN 978-0-684-85683-4

Prolific author Cookson (The Lady on My Left), who died in June of this year after publishing more than 90 books, left this last novel, again concerned with poverty-stricken Northern Englanders in the late 19th century. Alcoholic widower Hector Stewart has subjected the family farm to near ruinous neglect. Though his children, David and Pattie, object to his remarriage to Moira Conelly--she's Irish, they complain--their kind new stepmum turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Hector, the uncomplicated villain of the tale, treats Moira badly and denies Daniel the education he needs to become a doctor. Daniel makes the best of a bad situation, however, working hard and struggling to keep the farm from total deterioration, while emotionally supporting Moira and the increasing brood of half-brothers and sisters. A decade of births (pregnancy being the constant fact of Moira's life), deaths (most relieving: Hector's), good times and bad passes quickly via Cookson's melodramatic prose. Her fans will not be disappointed. (Feb.)