Thursday, 23 October 2008

ROSE by Martin Cruz Smith

I’ve had this book on my shelf for years and always intended to read it but with it not being my typical type of read I’ve never quite found the time to take it on until a recent holiday.

You’ve probably heard of Martin Cruz Smith, an American author who specialises in Russian tales of espionage and investigation how ever Rose is a story of an American explorer who gets sent to Victorian Wigan to find a missing cleric as punishment for liaising with Africans on the Gold Coast and ends up in a pickle with a local lass.

Regardless of the actual story line, if you’re from around these parts, it's a fascinating descriptive tale of what Scholes life was like in the late 19th century, when everyone went down the pit and then straight to the pub after work where boozy miners engage in shin kicking contests with the local fighting Irish. It also describes in great detail the harrowing conditions most miners and pitgirls worked amongst and the geography of the land when daylight barely broke through the smog.

It references lots of places directly linked to Wigan, meaning that I for one at least no know why Blair’s was called thus as the main character stays at the Minorca Hotel, and of course the Minorca Hotel was renamed Blairs in the late 80’s just as my boozing career started to commence and there's also other modern place names mentioned such as Jaxon's and Thicknesse.

It is well worth a read if you're interested in local history of the time or your ancestors were miners, and very scary to think the whole of Wigan was sitting on toxic mineshafts and risking their lives on an almost daily basis to earn a crust and die young. It is slightly derogatory towards Wigan in parts, not helped by endless mentions of clogs and rugby league but if you want to know what it’s like to shag a pit girl then this book is for you. The plot is pretty decent too, if a little predictable towards the end.

This book came as an Omnibus along with the better known Polar Star by the same author which I am also now half way through. Substitute Russian fish trawling and a bit of crabbing for coal mining and it's much the same story line but nevertheless it is still a good read and Mr Cruz Smith has at least succeeded in managing to distract me from the latest hoolie tome for the past few weeks.

Jimmy T

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