This book is the first in a new series. Set in Northumberland in the early 1800s this is a fictionalised account of the a crime that rocked the community and the author's ancestors.
When £1157 in rent money is stolen from Kirkley Hall the owner calls in officers from Bow Street magistrates court in London to investigate. While many think the owner's steward Michael Aynsley is to blame, suspicion focuses on poor farm labourer James Charlton. His behaviour after the theft only serves to further implicate him and the Charlton family, including brother William, begin a battle to save Jamie from the gallows and to keep his young family from the poor house. In his own way Will is also fighting for his freedom, trying to get away from the family farm and a past that has for too long affected his present. The magnificent golden eagle that has been seen over the area is a "lucky" bird, but there are parallels between the fate of the bird and Jamie.
This book is set in rural Northumberland, and although the reader is treated to some description of the life and homes of the upper classes much of the tale is set on the farms, in workers cottages and in the gaol. It is a bleak existence, especially in winter, and the author makes it easy to appreciate how difficult life must have been for the families in the novel. While the greater issues of the time touch on the story it really deals with telling the story of a family. The charming William is considered a bit of a ladies man but the reader sees more to him. He is devoted to his family but needs to cut the apron strings. I loved him, and the way he changed during the book. I also felt for Jamie's wife Cilla who, in common with many of her peers, was a hard toiling mother and worker.
I appreciated the writing style, which was descriptive without being too wordy, and which included enough local dialect to help me hear the characters without using using anything too obscure and confusing. Once I had chance to sit down and get into this book I didn't want to put it down again. The narrative is nice and linear, and easy to follow, seeing the family going through highs and lows. I thought that the recurring presence of the eagle made for a touching sub-plot interwoven with the main story.
I really enjoyed this book, a historical fiction that values the smaller details. I put it down wondering what would happen next to Cilla and Will in particular, and would love to read the next in the series.
Format: E-book, ARC, anticipated release date 8th Dec 2011
My Rating: 4*