Ronan Bennett's Havoc, in Its Third Year is more historical fiction than crime fiction, if one must squeeze it into a genre, but it's mainly a fine, penetrating, and moving piece of fiction, no need for labels, and it may be the best novel I've read since I started this crime-fiction thing five years ago. Its hero is a coroner investigating a murder, so crime is as good a label as any other.
It's also a serious and frightening meditation on the dangers of faction, fanaticism, and hypocrisy (it's set as religious war moves ever closer in seventeenth-century England), on the blessings of true charity, on the elevating powers of love religious and sexual.
Finally, it's beautifully written, not a word wasted, description reinforcing narrative, plots reinforcing one another, character, plot and setting of a dense, immensely affecting piece. And how can even such a hero as Atticus Finch be as admirable and noble a character as Bennett's loving, strong, vulnerable, wise, compassionate, truth-seeking John Brigge?
I once wrote that The Coffee Trader, David Liss' novel of love, religious prejudice and commodities trading in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, offered the most thorough, convincing fictional world I had ever entered. Bennett's book stands besides it, it not outright elbowing it to one side.
© Peter Rozovsky 2011