The setting for this marvelous, page-turning (kept me up very late last night) multi-layered work of historical fiction is Hokitika, New Zealand circa 1866, during it’s gold rush times. The first Part, about half the book, takes place in the Smoking Room of the Crown Hotel. The rest of the book generally takes place in the same area and either earlier or later. The language suits the setting – yes!
Characters – There are many characters and it’s very confusing for the first couple of chapters, but then it straightens out as one or two (or sometimes more) of them take part in sections of each chapter. There is a character list to refer to but after about a third of the book I didn’t need it. Also, for some reason, there seem to be astrological and/or occult issues involved. This is a major theme of the whole book and reflected in many places from the chapter openings and structure to the action and endings.
Plot – The first half of the book relates a meeting in the Crown Hotel where a group of 12 and then 13 men discuss the suspicious events of the prior days and weeks. They each tell their story about what they know of the deaths and/or disappearances, the gold and mine finagling, the smuggling, thefts, etc. All of them have been concerned with their involvement and what it looks like and each did some investigating and/or hiding if not more.
The issue is that Crosby Wells, a hermit, was found dead in his cabin a few days prior and it wasn’t until somewhat later that the prodigious amount of gold was found there with him. Also, an unsigned codicil to a non-existant will is found in the cabin by the minister. Was Wells murdered – there was also a vial of laudanum nearby. Whose gold is it? Where did it come from? What does the partially burned codicilmean? Who knew about the gold? Why are two other men missing – or are they dead? Those are just a few of the many questions these men have about what has transpired. And the only answers they can come up with seem to be circular.
The second half, with many Parts and chapters and picks up the tale as the men leave that hotel meeting. A missing ship some of the men were interested is now totally wrecked in the harbor. We are introduced to the young prostitute who is at the center of much of the mystery – the codicil was made her favor.
I was hooked from about page 50 or so. The first couple chapters are quite confusing with so many characters and events atop each other but this straightens out quickly.
This is most definitely a historical mystery and probably one of the best I’ve ever read.
and another more specialized one at: