Harry Probert-Lloyd, a young barrister forced home from London by encroaching blindness, has begun work as the acting coroner of Teifi Valley with solicitor’s clerk John Davies as his assistant.
When a faceless body is found on an isolated beach, Harry must lead the inquest. But his dogged pursuit of the truth begins to ruffle feathers. Especially when he decides to work alongside a local doctor with a dubious reputation and experimental theories considered radical and dangerous. Refusing to accept easy answers might not only jeopardise Harry’s chance to be elected coroner permanently but could, it seems, implicate his own family in a crime.
My thoughts :
I first came across Alis Hawkins’ Teifi Valley Coroner series when Emily at Dome Press asked if I’d like to be part of the blog tour for In Two Minds. I was happy to give it a whirl based on the synopsis, and the fact that I really enjoy historical crime fiction. Emily very kindly also sent me a copy of book one – None So Blind, but unfortunately I didn’t get around to reading it beforehand. However, it is most definitely on my TBR pile now.
This second book in the series is set in the 1850s, in the Teifi Valley in Cardiganshire, Wales. In it, Harry Probert-Llloyd, acting coroner, and his clerk, John Davies, investigate the events surrounding the discovery of a faceless body on a remote beach. In today’s world, a coroner would be unlikely to act as an investigative detective, but life was very different back then. Here’s a summary of the historical note from book one, which helps to put things into context:
In 1829, Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force. Around a decade later, the County Police Act was passed, enabling provincial police forces to be established. This lead to the establishment of a police force in Cardiganshire in 1943. The role of the police in society was very much as keepers of the peace – they would not have investigated murders like today’s detectives do. As for coroners, they were elected by male property freeholders, and were unpaid – so they needed an independent income: this meant that they had to come from the professional or landed classes.
The Teifi Valley Coroner series stars Harry Probert-Lloyd, a young squire from a large estate in Glanteifi. He’s a trained barrister who has had to give up his legal career in London due to the loss of his central vision – he still has his peripheral vision, but cannot make out faces or detail. In book one, he establishes working a relationship with a local solicitor’s clerk, John Davies, who is Harry’s right hand man, and is essential to Harry’s ability to carry out his duties. Book two opens with Harry as acting coroner, once again requesting the services of John as his assistant.
Together, they set about discovering why a faceless body was found on a beach. Was it murder, or merely an unfortunate accident?
The journey they embark upon allows the reader a glimpse into the social history in the Teifi Valley at the time. I’m pretty well-versed in Irish history, but I was unaware that many of the people of Wales were also forced to consider emigration to the USA around this time, as they could no longer rely upon the land to provide for them and their families. I loved learning more about the society and culture while also trying to work out who the body belonged to, and how it ended up dead on the beach.
John and Harry’s relationship is still relatively new, and there’s plenty of tension and misunderstanding between the pair. The chapters alternate between John and Harry’s viewpoints, allowing the reader full access to the different lines of enquiry, and also enabling us to get to know both characters equally well. John comes from a very poor background, and desperately needs a salaried position in order to support himself. He is very aware of the way people see him as he tries to earn respect and show that he is deserving of his position as Harry’s assistant. In contrast, Harry is set to inherit Glanteifi from his elderly father when he dies, but is desperately fighting the responsibilities of an estate squire.
I really enjoyed this book: Alis Hawkins has thoroughly researched the time and place, and has done a wonderful job in evoking and creating an atmospheric mystery, filled with a cast of interesting and colourful characters. This book not only provides an insight into the legal practices of the time, but also in gives insight into medical practices and attitudes towards illness.
I loved the inclusion of the map at the front, along with a brief glossary of the Welsh used in the book. I am definitely planning on reading book one (None So Blind) in the very near future so that I can fill in the blanks that I missed out on. Reading the books out of sequence did not impair my enjoyment of In Two Minds. It’s one I would definitely recommend to readers who enjoy historical and crime fiction – and who like learning a little along the way.
Thanks again to Emily at Dome Press for my gifted copies of None So Blind and In Two Minds. If you want to read some more reviews, check out what the other bloggers on the tour have to say:
About Alis Hawkins:
Alis Hawkins is a Welsh writer, who lives on the Welsh/English border. She grew up on a dairy farm in Cardiganshire. After attending the local village primary school and Cardigan County Secondary school, she left West Wales to read English at Oxford. Subsequently, she has has done various things with her life, including becoming a speech and language therapist, bringing up
two sons, selling burgers, working with homeless people, and helping families to understand their autistic children. And writing. Always. Nonfiction (autism related), plays (commissioned by heritage projects) and, of course, novels.
Alis’s first novel, Testament, was published in 2008 by Macmillan and was translated into several languages. (It has recently been acquired for reissue, along with her medieval trilogy of psychological thrillers by Sapere Books).
Her current historical crime series featuring blind investigator Harry Probert-Lloyd and his chippy assistant, John Davies, is set in Cardiganshire in the period immediately after the Rebecca Riots. As a side-effect of setting her series there, instead of making research trips to sunny climes like more foresighted writers, she just drives up the M4 to see her family.
Now living with her partner on the wrong side of the Welsh/English border (though she sneaks back over to work for the National Autistic Society in Monmouthshire) Alis speaks Welsh, collects rucksacks and can’t resist an interesting fact.
You can find out about her upcoming indy book tour on her website.