I don’t often review books here, because frankly I need to be cracking on with the fifth Shield book, but I saw this one in draft over a year ago when it was in beta, and it was so delightful, so funny and so bloody well done that I really want to share it now it’s been published. It’s a cracker, believe me. So, without more ado, let’s roll our the red carpet to welcome Elin Gregory to the blog so I can tell you all about her lovely book.
Malcolm Bright, brand new museum curator in a small Welsh Border town, is a little lonely until – acting as emergency archaeological consultant on a new housing development – he crosses the path of Rob Escley, aka Dirty Rob, who makes Mal’s earth move in more ways than one.
Then Rob discovers something wonderful, and together they must combat greedy developers and a treasure hunter determined to get his hands on the find. Are desperate measures justified to save the bones of our fathers? Will Dirty Rob live up to his reputation? Do museum curators really do it meticulously?
Answers must be found for the sake of Mal’s future, his happiness and his heart.
Length: 80,000 words approx
Publisher: Manifold Press
Cover Design: Michelle Peart
Classic, funny Elin Gregory. It truly is one to be savoured, stroked gently with loving fingers and reread. Often.
The whole setup just shines with authenticity. Writers frequently forget that worldbuilding is just as important in a contemporary as it is in historical or speculative fiction. Not Elin Gregory. This is a textbook example of how to create a contemporary world and make it live and breathe. Gregory does this with immense skill and aplomb, immersing the reader in a small village in the Welsh borders as if taking you by the hand and pointing out each character, the local museum, the library, the pub… until you’re convinced they’re real people and real places. The sense of community is palpable. The sense of knowing, of belonging, is not only palpable it’s now alien to the millions of us who live in cities where it’s a miracle if you know your next-door-neighbour’s name. Mal Bright comes from just such city. The community he joins is alien to him, too.
When Mal takes up post as head of a small, local history museum, the last thing he expects is two finds that will change his life: one archaeological and of immense social and historical significance (I won’t spoil the plot but let’s just say I loved the twist here!) and the other the love of his life, Rob Escley, the local who’s a virtuoso with a mechanical digger (back hoe, to those of you in the US). The slow unfolding of these two strands from their delicate intertwining is, quite simply, beautiful.
Because there is trouble in paradise. The archaeological find is on a building site, where much needed, affordable housing is needed to stop the haemorrhage of young people from the area—and boy, that is spot on in terms of rural politics and social pressures—and the dilemma of whether housing or archaeological find is the most important tests everyone involved. I know and understand the politics both at macro and micro level, from the librarian’s jockeying for superiority to the British Museum swooping in to claim a major find. Politics like that were the meat and drink of my professional career and I actually revelled in those aspects. Very, very well done and a prime example of my comment above about how Gregory gets her worldbuilding so perfectly right. It’s this sort of thing that imbues her story with its authentic air.
The real plot twist for me (small spoilers here) wasn’t that Rob and his pals intervene about the archaeological find , but the way they challenged Mal about it afterward. Gregory is very, very clever about getting us into Mal’s head. I was fully into his feelings of betrayal and hurt, coupled with sympathy for his manflu on top of everything, and whoosh! Gregory gets Rob’s friends to sweep in and suddenly Mal’s stuffed-shirt attitude becomes apparent to the reader as well as to Mal himself. I loved that his conflict becomes a little less about ethics and professional pride, and more about where he belongs and has the potential to be happy.
This is a lovely book. The characters are fresh and likeable, the world building is stellar, the plot fascinating. Do go and read it.
(I’ll add a disclaimer here: I was sent a copy of the final book by Signal Boost for review, but I’ve loved this book since I first saw an early version of it in beta, and I loved it now it’s finished and polished. Love that lasts, people. That’s to be treasured, wherever you find it)
Elin Gregory lives in South Wales and works in a museum in a castle built on the edge of a Roman Fort! She reckons that’s a pretty cool job.
Elin usually writes on historical subjects, and enjoys weaving the weird and wonderful facts she comes across in her research into her plots. She likes her heroes hard as nails but capable of tenderness when circumstances allow. Often they are in danger, frequently they have to make hard choices, but happy endings are always assured.
Current works in progress include one set during the Great War, another in WW2, one set in the Dark Ages and a series of contemporary romances set in a small town on the Welsh border.