#BookReview ‘The Swift and the Harrier’ by Minette Walters #historical

The latest historical novel from former thriller writer Minette Walters is an absolute cracker. I raced through The Swift and the Harrier which is a fabulous mixture of dramatic history, medicine, family divisions and romance, all set in the English Civil War. Minette WaltersThree days before the English Civil War begins in 1642, a Catholic priest is hung in Dorset for treason. Gentleman’s daughter and physician Jayne Swift is introduced to us in the public crush on Dorchester’s streets as people press to see the action. To avoid confrontation, Jayne steps into a doorway and finds herself drawn into the house by a thin-lipped elderly woman. They are strangers and in the current political unrest, all strangers must be mistrusted. This meeting is the catalyst for a narrative which takes us through the twists and turns of this war which sets brother against brother, where unpaid soldiers are ordered by superiors to loot and ransack civilian property, where small towns are attacked under siege for little gain and where men choose sides on blind belief rather than an understanding of the facts. Disguise and dissimulation are necessary to avoid the attention of whichever band of soldiers are encountered.
Jayne is a wonderful heroine. Plucky, bloody-minded, honest and fair, with a strong belief of a medic’s neutrality in time of war despite her staunchly Royalist father, she concentrates on treating the sick and wounded. This gets her into trouble numerous times. During the execution in Dorchester, Jayne encounters so many arrogant and boorish men, dismissive not just of women but of anyone whose views or experience are different to their own. She manages to evade arrest, and worse, thanks to some examples of honourable men. The role of women and the lack of freedoms is a theme running throughout the book, not just Jayne’s own medical career but a gentlewoman’s hidden proficiency as an artist, cousin Ruth’s marriage to a domineering violent man, and the bravery and efficiency of the women of Lyme Regis during its siege by Royalty forces. At the heart of it all – the war, the political and religious divide, marriage, work and family relationships and inheritance – is the right of everyone, man or woman, rich or poor, to the freedom of choice.
In the first action scene in Dorchester, Jayne is aided by William, a footman to Lady Alice Stickland, the elderly lady whose doorway in which Jayne takes shelter. And here is the first romantic thread which is stitched to the end of the book. Who is William? Why does his appearance change and why does he tell a different story every time Jayne sees him? Is he trustworthy?
A book I didn’t want to end. My knowledge of the Civil War is superficial and I particularly enjoyed the passages about the siege of Lyme Regis, a place I know.

Read my reviews of the two ‘Black Death’ historical novels, also by Minette Walters

If you like this, try:-
The Evening and the Morning’ by Ken Follett [#prequel Kingsbridge]
The Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett [#1 Kingsbridge]
A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom’ by John Boyne

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE SWIFT AND THE HARRIER by Minette Walters #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5wd via @SandraDanby

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