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Havoc, in Its Third Year: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Aug 24 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Aug. 24 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743258568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743258562
  • Product Dimensions: 24.5 x 16.8 x 2.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,578,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Bennett (The Catastrophist) pens an evocative, somber account of a man facing a crisis of spirit and conscience in early 17th-century England, when "men of property were gripped by fears" and decried the poor, the immigrant and the unemployed as spreaders of crime and sin. Upstanding town coroner and governor John Brigge, a man of "the old faith" who "lived with signs and saints," is called to investigate the death of a baby allegedly murdered by the child's own mother, Katherine Shay, a proud Irish Catholic woman. She denies not only the crime but the right of her Puritan inquisitors to try her. Brigge, struck by the young woman's refusal to quietly accept her fate, begins to believe that she may indeed be innocent. But because the townspeople have already decided she is guilty—and have sniffed about Bennett the secret airs of a papist—he understands that his own fate will hinge on whether or not he goes along with those who claim to work for the benefit of God, even as they serve their own selfish ends. Marvelously told, with memorable characters, powerful dialogue and description, and subtly drawn parallels to contemporary issues, this is one of the more rewarding historical novels to come along in some time.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“A thrillingly satisfying piece of work.”—Telegraph (UK)

“Searingly powerful.”—Independent (UK)

“Plunging us into a somber world of uncertainty, fears and portents, Bennett succeeds in making the vanished past vivid—and in making us wonder if there are not perhaps some parallels between that time and our own.”—Los Angeles Times

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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WHEN THE WOMEN FOUND MILK IN HER BREASTS, AND OTHER secret feminine tokens, Scaife, the constable's man, an archdolt, was dispatched across the windswept moors and icy mountains to fetch Mr. John Brigge, coroner in the wapentakes of Agbrigg and Morley. Read the first page
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By Eric R Fisher TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 15 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the title suggests, this is a grim novel set during a grim era of English history in an unnamed Yorkshire town of the 1630's. Successive poor harvests have unleashed an army of indigents roaming England, looking for sustenance. People of property are deeply defensive, fearful of being dispossessed or murdered. Puritan rigor holds sway over men's minds, looking to the law of Moses to enforce civil peace and suspecting a popish plot behind every calamity. Against this backdrop we are introduced to the protagonist, the area coroner and a town governor named John Brigge. Formally conforming to the Established Church, he is a not-so-secret recusant unable to give up the old religion. He is at once idealistic and naive, unable to believe in the depravity of his detractors. There is a plot intrigue around his efforts to uncover the truth in a murder investigation, though the merit of the book lies elsewhere. The first chapters seem dull, but gradually the reader is pulled into deep concern for Brigge in his progress to an inevitable doom. The novelist is a Ph.D. in history and has used both learned and original source material; the novel is replete with appropriate references, linguistic turns and medical lore of the times. Justice, mercy and tolerance are contrasted with repression and the lust to hideously punish non-conformists and perceived enemies of the commonwealth. Regarded as fiction, one can cavil. Towards the end the author puts his message into the mouth of Brigge's wife Elizabeth in a fulsome prose set-piece that seems unlikely for a woman of her station. And in the final chapters the hero achieves an apotheosis through dreams and fantasy that strain credibility with this reader, though others may weep. Altogether it is a gripping if grim journey into an abiss of human depravity masquerading as God's work. P.S. This book would be a valuable addition to an undergraduate reading list on the era.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 10 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
"No toleration for any crime, error, or sin, however slight" Sept. 5 2004
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Set in the north of England in the early 1630s, this novel artfully captures the political, social, and religious turmoil during the reign of King Charles I. A distant and autocratic king, Charles fails to take into account the enormous religious changes sweeping both Europe and England and undermining his own power. Puritanical grassroots movements have now sprung up, with many local leaders, both religious and civil, calling for reform and purification. John Brigge, a coroner living in the remote countryside, is one of twelve reform-minded governors aiding Nathaniel Challoner, the Master, in his "Revolution of the Saints" and his project to "build a city on the hill."

Though he attends the prescribed protestant church, Brigg is in reality a "papistical malignant," a man who walks the difficult line between the Puritanism of the Master, a lifelong friend, and his belief that "men must have mercy, for without mercy we are savages." When Brigge is suddenly called to conduct an inquest on an infant found dead in a local pub, he discovers that Katherine Shay, a Catholic deemed "prideful, brazen, and uncontrite," has been arrested for the murder.

With numerous subplots and much intrigue, the story of Katherine Shay's arrest and John Brigge's search for justice on her behalf evolves. The period comes to life on every level of society as the author shows in realistic detail the kinds of gruesome punishments meted out for "sins," the harshness of life for the homeless poor, the dependence of farmers on luck and weather, the fragility of life, the excesses of religious extremism, and the abiding power of love. Realistically presented motivations for some of the extreme behavior in the novel make the Puritan characters come alive, as John Brigge, a man who sees more than one side to each issue, becomes a protagonist for whom the reader develops much sympathy.

The elegant and formal language of the novel resembles that of the Bible. Filled with observations of the harsh natural world but revealing the humanity of the main characters, the novel has a rare historical integrity and unity, with poignant applications to the present day. Despite its forbidding subject matter, the novel is exciting--full of well-paced action and suspense. Many characters have biblical parallels, obvious in their names--Elizabeth, Deborah, Starman, and John Brigge, sometimes known as Germanus. The religious parallels are unobtrusive during the body of the novel, but the ending is overtly symbolic and didactic, the book's artistry and elegance subordinated to message, and its thematic balance and restraint sacrificed to an overly obvious, religious conclusion. (4.5 stars) Mary Whipple
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
WELL DONE HISTORICAL NOVEL OF WHICH WE SHOULD TAKE HEED Dec 9 2004
By D. Blankenship - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The author's setting for this work in early 17th century England. This is a well done piece of historical fiction by any standard. The author has obviously done his research. Because of the time, religion, sin, faith, morals and leadership all come into play. I was struck by the timelessness of this work. When you take a close look at the problems encountered by the primary characters in the book, we find this same theme repeated time and again throughout history, indeed our own history. Many of the incidents taking place here, in 1630 could be ripped from the pages of "Grapes of Wrath." It does not take a great leap to turn on the evening news and catch glipses of the very problems the author addresses here. That being said, I do feel the author's wonderful use of the language, his character development and insight to human character make the book well worth the read. Very much recommend this one. It should make you think!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Bennett's best to date on what it means to be human July 28 2006
By Reader from Singapore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Knowledge of medieval English history is a boon though not a prequisite for enjoying "Havoc, In Its Third Year", a brilliantly crafted, nominally genred as murder mystery and arguably the best novel to date by Ronan Bennett. The kangaroo trial of Irish woman Katherine Shay for the alleged killing of an infant assumed to be her child is the catalyst that ignites the fire within John Brigge, a coroner and above all a good man, to get to the bottom of the case and see that justice is done even at the cost of his own life and that of his family.

As an Asian reader without any knowledge whatsoever of the politics of the times as between Catholics and Protestants etc, the universality of the novel's theme about the right of an individual to exercise compassion and forgiveness (ie, what it means to be human) is one so powerful as to render any disadvantage from the lack of historical knowledge irrelevant.

It seems too much of a coincidence that in my reading of the book I should be keenly reminded of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible". John Brigge bears a strong resemblence to the John Proctor character in "The Crucible" and his situation to Proctor's one-man crusade against the witch hunt of the McCarthyist era in America. Even his secret shame - a past adulterous affair he deeply regrets with Dorcas, the servant girl, his wife Elizabeth's unexpressed knowledge of it - is almost identical to Proctor's tragic situation that would lead ultimately to his undoing. Adultery, conscionable treachery, dishonourable compromise are all common failings, but there is redemption yet if one has the courage to remember what it means to be human.

Bennett's writing is gloriously profound. His prose flows beautifully. There are lapses though, as when his characters disappear into their own thoughts and start to hallucinate. I also felt the story ended on a rather unsteady note.

"Havoc, In Its Third Year" is nevertheless a substantial triumph that stands head and shoulders above some other more famous books published in 2004. A Booker longlist that should have been in the shortlist.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This may be the perfect historical novel Feb. 21 2013
By DBB - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I may have found the perfect historical novel.

Havoc, in Its Third Year answers every qualm I've had about the genre. It's saturated with history without hitting the reader over the head with names and dates. Its plots and subplots are inextricably bound up with the historical issues at hand (religious and political strife in seventeenth-century England), so there is no tension between history and mystery.

The dialogue has the barest hint of archaism to it, light enough not to be obtrusive, but just enough to remind readers that the story's time is not their own. The protagonist, a discreetly Catholic coroner and civic official named John Brigge, is one of the most admirable characters in all of fiction. There's even murder mixed in.

I do much of my reading late at night, so I could well rate books by how late they keep me up. Havoc, in Its Third Year receives the first-ever, surely soon to be coveted Detectives Beyond Borders 6+ rating, for keeping me up past 6 a.m.
======================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
[...]
Havoc its third year Dec 30 2011
By Tony - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Yorkshire in the 1630s is a bleak, impoverished place. Puritanism is gathering strength. The harvest has failed for the third year in succession, and desperation is spreading. The response of the local authorities is a law and order crackdown, which remarkably enough has done nothing to reduce thefts or public disturbances.

The current group of local governors came to power amid high hopes, after dislodging the harsh Lord Savile. Three years on, they are falling under the icy hand of Protestant fanatics. The moderates are gradually picked off, set up and arrested, and the bigots are eager to tip the scales further. Opportunists shift their ground; the local leader Nathaniel Challoner, a rather Bill Clinton-esque figure, tacks ever further to the Right to hold his support base.

John Brigge has to find his way through this tricky place. He is a relatively well-off farmer, also the public coroner and a governor of his town, but his status is made precarious by his secret, but widely suspected, Catholicism: by now the Papists are few, scattered and in fear of their lives, blamed for any and all public unrest. Even the Town Watch feels able to sport with Brigge as he tries to pass the gates.

Brigge's mindset has been shaped by the old medieval world, a world full of signs and symbols, where there is a place for everyone and everyone is in their place - he has no feel for the new Protestantism with its progress toward cold, self-interested rationality.

Brigge sometimes attempts to use his position as coroner to defend the innocent and hold the brutal to account, at other times he withdraws to his estate well removed from the town. Neither strategy works very well. Faced by Challoner's slide towards tyranny he is increasingly uneasy for himself and his family, but also sad for Challoner himself, an old friend.

The story line follows Brigge's investigation into the Irishwoman Katherine Shay, imprisoned for the death of her newborn child. The main witness, a 16-year-old girl, has not returned from a visit to relatives. He suspects involvement from one of his enemies, Richard Doliffe, and pursues the case both for justice and in the hope of bringing down his dangerous opponent.

All this is set against Brigge's personal life. His wife Elizabeth is due to give birth, after several miscarriages. Theirs is a tender relationship, complicated, however, by his affair with the girl Dorcas who lives with them. All are in pain: Brigge from guilt and confusion, Dorcas from guilt and her unrequited love for him, Elizabeth from her knowledge of the affair. Yet all manage to maintain their dignity.

The hook which threatens to draw this delicate situation into the public domain is Brigge's apprentice, Adam. He wants to marry Dorcas (who would rather remain second to Elizabeth in Brigge's heart than be Adam's wife). Making matters far worse, Adam is also caught up in the cold excitement of the puritan crackdown, which would be ample in itself for testing his loyalty to his master... and he knows of the family's secret Papist practices.

For most of the story Brigge heads ever-deeper into bewilderment and disarray. Neither personal decency nor public office can accomplish much when they do not align with one or another of the current forces in society.

While Protestants happen to be the persecutors here, the author's real targets are bigotry and tyranny. Brigge's local priest is on the run, but we get a glimpse of the man's taste for torture should he ever hold the whip hand.

The book is rich in contemporary references. Some of them are particular to the author's birthplace of Northern Ireland. As a Catholic schoolboy he was "routinely rounded up with hundreds of others by British troops and spent several years in an internment camp", according to a review by Carolyn See (Washington Post). However, sectarian hatreds do not rule out ugly alliances at elite level, and he brings that out too.

There are messages about law-and-order policies that stare you in face, but he also notes a tendency toward economic blackmail by the rich, who threaten to remove themselves from the parish if their taxes rise. When a teenage girl is flogged to death for fornication it is, again, hard to escape comparisons to events the current world, although the media tends to frame them in terms of Islam rather than poverty.

Several reviewers have discussed the difficulty faced by historical novelists in bringing out the language of the time. Kathryn Hughes (Guardian) has a particularly interesting commentary on this point, noting that Bennett uses "a language heavily inflected by the English of the King James Bible, commissioned a couple of decades before his story starts".

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