by A.R. Dance
History is not my strongest subject. Trying to remember all those dates never worked for me. 1066 and 1812 are the only memorable dates that stick in my mind: the latter one because of the music rather than for events that took place. I am not the only one who struggles with history. Didn’t Henry Ford remark, ‘History is bunk!’ It is probable that his words fell on more than a few sympathetic ears. But historical novels are a totally different matter and it is fair to say I probably learnt more about past events from reading about them in a novel than I ever learnt in the history lessons I sat through at school.
Historical novels put flesh on the bones, bring the participants to life and explain the reasons why certain events took place. And it is all down to the skilful research of the historical novelist. I have learned about Boadicea, the warrior queen of the Iceni and her struggles against the Romans from the novels of Manda Scott. Facts about the Peninsula War from Bernard Cornwell’s books and the power struggles in ancient Rome from the writings of Robert Harris.
Now ‘Narrow Marsh’ by A R Dance brings alive to me past events much nearer to home. If you live in or around Nottingham then you will certainly have heard of Broad Marsh. But how many people remember Narrow Marsh, or even know that such a place existed? I didn’t until I read Mr Dance’s excellent book. His narrative is fictitious but his settings of the early 19th century, his descriptions of the city as it then was and the dramatic events he brings vividly to life are true to type. It is a fascinating book to read and carries the reader back to a time of fear, poverty and the unbelievable hardships suffered by working people. There were times when I thought the author might have dramatised the action a little more, but then I thought, no, that wouldn’t work. It is because he does not over-sensationalise events that they come across as genuine and believable. That is not to say the story lacks excitement, it does and in its final chapters the author cleverly builds the tension to a climatic finish. You must not miss it. But wait! There is also a sequel which promises to be every bit as exciting … and I for one can’t wait to get hold of a copy of ‘Leen Times’.
Michael J Smedley