by Jim Croce
2013/ 245 pages
rating 8 / contemp fiction

Is Croce a poet? This novel reads like poetry in terms of the sometimes archaic vocabulary and the heavy rhythm. This was to the point I was looking for distinct meter and rhyme schemes.

Long ago and far away, probably medieval England, there was a small community of inter-related people who worked the land at the edge of a forest for its owner the widowed and childless Master Kent.

Walter Thirsk, the first-person narrator is a relative newcomer to the group of workers, but his family has worked for the Kents for several generations. He is also a widower.

One day in late summer as the community was harvesting, a man appeared. He made marks on paper and the group decided the owner of the land meant to sell it. They called him Mr Quill.

One night a fire erupted and burned some of the fields. The next day a small band of “gypsy-like” people appeared. Two of them were put in the pillory for the fire and poaching, although others, members of the community, had started the blaze. The small dark-haired woman in her amazing shawl spat on the Master’s horse – the design was compared to a rosary.

A couple nights later the Master’s horse was found dead as well as one of the pilloried men. But before that happened, the new owner (due to some laws of inheritance?) had showed up to assess his lands and now he took over an investigation.

Thirsk is working for Quill now and wants to leave and work for him rather than with sheep. But suspicion grows and it’s quite possible Thirsk is not being totally honest with the reader, but … maybe he is.

At any rate, although the book seems to read somewhat like an allegory or a fable, it’s not quite, imo, because there is too much detail. I think what Crace is trying to do is show how we suspect outsiders, for various reasons, and miss the truth. But then, somehow, the story takes on a life of its own. We might align the evidence to match what we want it to show, but that only makes more trouble.

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