Easter, Patrick - 'The Watermen'
THE WATERMEN starts with the brutal beating of a prostitute in the foetid slums of docklands London in 1798, so you know that this is no lightweight read. It's the story of two men - Tom Pascoe, a naval officer who is co-opted into the new marine police force on the Thames, and his arch enemy Joseph Boylin, landlord and criminal who has a grudge against Pascoe that goes back to their navy days.
Pascoe's job with the newly formed river police is to find out why revenues have dropped, and who is responsible for missing cargoes. Boylin, who has a finger in many a pie is hell-bent on revenge and that is only heightened when it transpires that they both have an interest in the same girl.
The sense of place that you get from this book is just wonderful. You can almost smell the river and the decaying houses and the filth in the streets. A truly evocative picture of the time, not at all gloss-coated or prettified. You get a good sense of the politics and social stratification of the times too with the introduction of Sam Hart, a Jew working with Pascoe, who seems to have his own motives for his actions. As a Jew, Sam has all manner of discrimination to deal with.
I understand that this is the first of a series and I have to say that I'm looking forward to reading more and discovering what's next for Tom Pascoe. In particular I'm keen to read how the relationship between Sam Hart and Tom Pascoe develops. I'd heartily recommend this one for fans of historical fiction.
Pat Austin, England