Sarah Waters, whose works set in Victorian England have awards and acclaim and have reinvigorated the genres of both historical and lesbian fiction, returns with novel that marks a departure from nineteenth century and a spectacular leap forward in the career of this masterful storyteller.
Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit liasons, and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch tells the story of Londoners: three women and a young man with a past-whose lives, and those of their friends and lovers, connect in ways that are surprising not always known to them. In wartime London, the women work-as ambulance drivers, ministry clerks, and building inspectors. There are feats of heroism, epic and quotidian, and tragedies both enormous and personal, but the emotional interiors of her characters that Waters captures with absolute and intimacy.
Waters describes with perfect knowingness the taut composure of a rescue worker in the aftermath of a bombing, the idle longing of a young woman her soldier lover, the peculiar thrill convict watching the sky ignite through the bars on his window, the hunger a woman stalking the streets for encounter, and the panic of another who sees her love affair coming end. At the same time, Waters is absolute control of a narrative that offers up subtle surprises and exquisite twists, even as it depicts the impact grand historical event on individual lives.
Tender, tragic, and beautifully poignant, The Night Watch is a towering achievement that confirms its author as "one of the best storytellers alive today" (Independent on Sunday).
With an ingenuous dismissal of other Sherlock Holmes pastiches as, well, mere pastiches, Kendrick sets about a taut reworking of the venerable "locked room" mystery. His tale of murder in the cathedral, he insists, is genuine: a lost account from the one true chronicler, Dr. Watson. Kendrick also dusts off another of sleuthdom's icons, Father Brown. The mix works. Though the narrative voice little evokes that of the Good Doctor, Kendrick knows and respects his source materials. A cleric himself, he also knows church history. Not only does he use little remembered figures (such as the heretic Pelagius) and events (such as the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893), but he integrates them so well with the mystery that the reader pores over the historical minutiae for possible clues. Representatives from each of the world's major religions gather secretly in a London church to plan for an important ecumenical conference; then one of them murders his Anglican host in most unholy fashion. Holmes and Father Brown have but one night to solve the grizzly murder, aided by such stalwarts as Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes. In the light of the past century's history and, particularly, recent events, there is a profoundly tragic aspect to Kendrick's plotting and his roster of suspects Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Islamic who join together in the hope of establishing common ground. A century later, such vision seems all but trampled under.
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November 06, 2006
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