Author – Quintin Jardine
Published – 2014
Genre – Historical fiction
Mathew’s Tale is the 40th book by Quintin Jardine and his first historical one. I’d like to say that I’m a fan of his but I’m not sure I really qualify – I’ve only read 4 of his 23 Bob Skinner books so far, but I’m working on it! I do like to read series in order and it’s not easy to walk into a bookshop and pick up number 5 or 6 in a series, but I had no qualms about reading this standalone – and who could resist that cover?
The book starts with Mathew’s return to his village in Scotland after seven years away fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, including participating in the Battle of Waterloo. Marked by his experiences but still a young man he is apprehensive about making the journey home and what will have become of the family and friends he left behind.
The early part of Mathew’s Tale charts his efforts to make something of himself and despite coming from a country background he manages to capitalise on the burgeoning growth in industry and shows some moderate success. A chance event puts a close friend of his in peril and Mathew steps up to do what he can to save his friend. The story then takes a change in direction as it moves from the country to the city of Edinburgh and becomes more of a legal drama. Mathew finds himself at the mercy of a corrupt legal system that seems determined to thwart him at every turn, but his background as a soldier has given him a steel and determination that those in power have failed to credit. There was a lot of intrigue and a surprising amount of tension in this part of the plot.
It’s a while since I read any historical fiction and I really enjoyed this story. It has quite a gentle pace although time moves along quite quickly and while I was immersed in 19th century Scotland the historical detail was provided in broad brushstrokes, rather than getting into the minutiae of the period. The lead character is very likeable, his character has been shaped by his experience of war, but it doesn’t dwell on his backstory and surprisingly there are no real battle scenes, in fact the whole book is quite light on sex and violence (this is a good thing!). The story is also something of a romance and there’s a nice balance between the story of Mathew’s life and the skulduggery of the legal aspects.
A very enjoyable read – this might be the first historical novel by Jardine but I hope it won’t be the last! Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.