Book Review by Christopher Yates
• Paperback: 248 pages
• Publisher: The Mystery Press (2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN: 978-0-7524-8091-6
Visit the publisher’s website to purchase a copy. The author also has a website at http://www.catherinehanley.co.uk/
England 1217: A time of great turmoil. A nation caught in the stranglehold of civil war. King John is dead, leaving only a boy king to rule. Prince Louis of France has declared himself monarch. Great schisms appear as land barons divide and raise their banners. A time of intrigue, action, betrayal and, as proven by C. B. Hanley’s The Sins of the Father, a great backdrop for a riveting story.
The plot is quite a simple affair, mixed into the intrigue and paranoia of the times. Following the murder of a visiting lord, Edwin Weaver (the dying bailiff’s son) is tasked with finding his killer before his own Lord (William de Warenne) is accused of the crime. What ensues is a very entertaining game of cat and mouse as Edwin ploughs through his list of suspects, whilst trying to overcome his personal demons. Hanley throws much into the mix as the story twists and turns. The constant threat of impending civil war and the sub-plot of Edwin’s dying father, add an air of realism to the piece and help support the believability of the numerous red herrings.
The central character of Edwin is accessible, likeable and three dimensional. At the start of the novel, the reader is introduced to a troubled young man who is struggling to be and do what is expected of him. The reader instantly makes a connection with the character, be it sympathy or empathy, and Hanley plays on this. Over the course of the narrative the reader witnesses Edwin’s growth and development, and this creates a real sense of sharing his journey. However, Edwin’s strengths are the other characters’ weaknesses. The story is told from differing points of view. The problem is that the three main supporting characters (Robert, Simon & Martin) are just extensions of Edwin’s character. There is no clear difference between them. They play the same kind of role. At times this can lead to slight confusion as to whose mind we were in. However, further into the story this problem appeared to rectify itself.
The true quality of The Sins of the Father lies in its simplicity and accessibility. Hanley doesn’t bog the reader down with mountains of information or period detail. Yet, the story is very believable. The narrative draws on atmosphere and, from the opening line we are sucked in. The tone of the writing and the style of drip feeding information, always leaving the reader wanting more, demonstrate a real depth of talent. Hanley evidently knows her stuff (PhD aside!), yet at no point is the reader made to feel intimidated by her in-depth knowledge of the period. She subtly educates on the troubles facing the different social classes. She welcomes us into her world, slowly building the sets and landscape as the story unfolds. We learn as we read, yet do not notice we are being taught. This approach only serves to strengthen the bond between author and reader.
The Sins of the Father is a thoroughly enjoyable read that I would whole heartedly recommend. It’s entertaining, enjoyable and a novel that keeps you guessing right up until the end. It’s true that some parts read like a debut novel, but that’s exactly what it is. The foundations have been laid and I hope, no I pray, that C. B. Hanley returns to the character of Edwin, as I feel there is more to give. I would love to see a series (a la’ Matthew Shardlake by C. J. Sansom), not just a trilogy, following Edwin’s exploits during these interesting and troublesome times.
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