A gentleman soldier returns from the Peninsula War, silent and remote. In search of self healing he travels the western sea roads north from Bristol to the Scottish Isles.
In time we learn that John Lacroix was an officer in charge of a motley bunch of infantrymen making their way to Corunna, and that something terrible happened on that journey.
Unbeknownst to Lacroix he is being tracked by an ill suited pair – Calley, a British footsoldier, and Medina, a Spanish officer, who have been tasked with bringing him to justice – or, in Calley’s interpretation, returning with Lacroix’s head in a sack. We never really learn who is behind their orders.
Historical novel, romance, thriller – it’s a real mixture that offers a fascinating perspective on the Peninsula Wars, 18th century trade and travel, Scottish emigration and Hebridean life.
That said, it’s a bit of a strange combination, with parts 1 and 2 following the development of Maud and Tim’s relationship from meeting through the university sailing club to the arrival of daughter Zoe and the impact she has on the wider family relationships, and parts 3 and 4 covering Maud’s solo sail across the Atlantic after the death of her daughter and breakdown of her marriage. I found the ending a bit odd, disconnected from the rest of the already disjointed narrative.
Some of the reviews make it sound like there’s some uncertainty about Maud’s earthliness. I found none – her supremely self contained character has been shaped by her unemotional parents and the distant relationships that result.
1785, four years before the arrival of revolution in Paris, young engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte is commissioned with the removal of the cemetery of Les Innocents.
As his dreams of building bridges are replaced by the practicalities of bringing up the bodies and disposing of the bones, we follow Jean-Baptiste’s relationships old and new, all revolving around the graveyard and the Church of the Holy Innocents – fellow engineer Lecoeur, a friend from their time together working at the mines at Valenciennes, the Monnard family with whom he lodges, Armand the flamboyant church organist and bon viveur, Jeanne the granddaughter of the church sexton, and the elusive, exotic Heloïse.