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Monday, February 28, 2011

Prolific Author Bill Kirton Reviewed by Diane Nelson

The Figurehead
by Bill Kirton

ISBN #978-1935460091
Historical crime fiction
Bill Kirton: http://www.bill-kirton.co.uk/


Reviewed by Diane Nelson for Romancing Words.com and Goodreads

Opening a book is much like passing through a portal. As the page turns, and you step through that opening, you enter a time, a place, a world populated with the familiar and the inexplicable. Historical fiction. Oft times an acquired taste, or an accidental discovery, driven by curiosity, grounded in the universals of human behavior. The author, Bill Kirton, provides us with a compass rose to orient the reader with subtle cues - the scents, the sounds, the taste and feel of a bustling port and ship building center. The intimacy of humble lodgings, the expanse of beach and narrow confines of the estuary, a workshop where works of art are coaxed from rough timber. The setting is such a skillful tapestry, of uncommon warp and weft, that it immediately allows the characters to command our full attention.

The setting complements and drives the story forward as John Grant encounters an apparent drowning victim, a local shipwright of questionable character. When the local constabulary fail, once again, to exercise due diligence, John decides to investigate on his own, driven by a deep-seated need to see justice done when he determines that the incident appears to be murder most foul. His investigations are spurred by common sense and a unique ability to see patterns in disparate events. This ability makes him a consummate wood-carver of figureheads, and when William Anderson commissions John to provide a likeness of his wife to grace his newest ship, the Elizabeth Anderson, he finds unexpected and interconnected chains of events. As he digs deeper into the mystery surrounding the murder, his discoveries, and their implications, test his friendships and relationships with all involved. As he works through the list of suspects he, and we, are drawn to one inexorable conclusion. What he does with that knowledge would be a spoiler … but suffice it to say, the author did a masterful job laying the groundwork as we followed the logic, the bits and pieces of tangible and not-so-tangible clues, motivations, events possible and impossible alike.

And while this should be more than enough to satisfy even the pickiest crime/mystery buff, the author manages to interweave a splendid romance of such exquisite tenderness that he is guaranteed to capture the heart of the most die-hard romantic. John and Anderson’s daughter, Helen, are drawn to each other by their sharp intellects and curious dispositions, yet the constraints of the time, their stations in life, and the dominating presence of Helen’s father make this a less-than-smooth relationship. Helen is an unconventional young woman who risks her father’s and society’s displeasure by befriending the murdered man’s wife, Jesse, and by insisting on learning her father’s business. Her discoveries, juxtaposed next to John’s, create an intriguing circle of supposition and fleshes out the historical context leading up the actual event.

The Figurehead satisfies on every level, giving the reader authenticity, characters to care about, a mystery, and a romance. The author gives us a portal through which we can enter whenever we choose, and return to time and again - Aberdeen, Scotland when tall ships ruled and greed by any other name was still commerce.

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