Havoc, In Its Third Year by Ronan Bennett - review by Sam Leith

Sam Leith

Puritans Vs Papists

Havoc, In Its Third Year


Bloomsbury 244pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Ronan Bennett's very enjoyable third novel has one foot in the twenty-first century, and one in the seventeenth. The place is somewhere in the rural north of England; the date sometime in the early 1630s; and the third-person narrative couched in a stagy old-world idiolect, smattered with archaic usages and colourful, unfamiliar words like 'rain-winds' and 'woolfells' and 'tocsins'. Bennett soon hits his stride in an idiom that could easily sound camp or silly, but which, here, adds to the feel of a densely imagined fictional world, just as black and smelly and disease-ridden as one imagines the 1630s to have been.

Havoc also has, underneath its apparatus of herbal possets, apocalyptic weather and extravagantly goitered mendicants, the chassis of a classic lone-detective conspiracy thriller. John Brigge, who serves as 'coroner in the wapentakes of Agbrigg and Morley', has been called out from his remote farm – leaving behind a pregnant wife

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