STARRED REVIEW
December 2018

The Western Wind

By Samantha Harvey
Review by

Samantha Harvey’s new novel is a carefully paced mystery that takes place during the four days before Lent in the small medieval British village of Oakham.

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Samantha Harvey’s new novel is a carefully paced mystery that takes place during the four days before Lent in the small medieval British village of Oakham. When the town’s wealthiest and most worldly resident, Tom Newman, is reported missing, rumors fly. Was it murder, a suicide or an accidental drowning? The townspeople share their theories in the makeshift confession box of Oakham’s resident priest, John Reve, who balances his own grief with the growing discontent around him. He is not helped by the prying ears and eyes of the local dean, who is determined to uncover village secrets and find the person responsible for Newman’s disappearance—or is he a spy for the local monastery, whose monks would like nothing better than to swallow up Oakham and take the land for their own?

Harvey plots her story in reverse, a chapter per day, beginning on Shrove (Pancake) Tuesday and working back to the previous Saturday. With each day, the reader learns more about the villagers, the clergy and the intriguing Newman, whose continental travels and interests threatened Reve’s established order. Though Oakham is described as a dump of a town populated by outcasts and exiles and cut off from the surrounding countryside by an unbridgeable river, Reve believes in his role as shepherd of his flock, however wayward they may seem.

The Western Wind is filled with the rich details of rural medieval life, but the unique structure of the story gives the novel a fresh and modern sensibility. In addition, Oakham’s remoteness and parochial village church is contrasted with the spiritual changes coming to both England and the rest of Europe, bringing to mind contemporary issues such as Brexit and the refugee crisis.

Harvey, whose previous novels have been nominated for a range of prizes including the Man Booker, has written a densely packed historical novel that never seems dusty or precious, relishing in the psychological intricacies of power and faith but still crackling with suspense and intrigue.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Western Wind

The Western Wind

By Samantha Harvey
Grove
ISBN 9780802128287

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