Reviewed by Francine.
It’s the North of England (1763) and the Enclosures Act has yet to be passed by Parliament (1773). Even so, small plots and common land are enclosed without application to Parliament, which occurred right through from the time of Charles II’s restoration. And this is where the author’s hero, James Blakiston, rides forth and affords insight to his position as overseer (land agent/steward). He is the very man who mediates in disputes and or negotiates terms between a landowner and his tenant cottagers, smallholders and farmers. Subsequently, Blakiston comes to know of the shady secrets of all the parishioners, the rector, and his lusty bible spouting curate.
As if Blakiston doesn’t have enough to contend with in his duties to his master, (his lordship), a rape and murder occurs in one of his lordship’s villages, which James must initially investigate as part of his working remit. But rumour abounds of hidden treasure spirited away, and what at first seems a simple case of murderous revenge, becomes a far more complicated puzzle to solve. Undaunted, Blakiston sets out to unravel the mystery of a man everyone despised: including the deceased’s own children. Such is no mean task for Blakiston hails from the lesser landed gentry, being that of a squire’s son. While subjected to sideways mistrusting glances from many, others benefit from his fair-minded policies. One young lady, below his rank, sees him for what he is, a lonely young man at heart. Little does Kate Greener know that Blakiston has a past he’s ashamed of, and although she stirs lust from within, he is what he has made of himself: A Just and Upright Man.
Blakiston treats Kate with respect, and while beating his heart into retreat, she too knows her place in the overall scheme of what is socially acceptable. But can social divide keep them apart, or can love overcome all obstacles set by society? J. R. Lynch has brought to life the country folk from up north, and that of the era in which they exist. This novel is on a par with Thomas Hardy’s meaty offerings of country life and the hardships of the less well off: those beholding to the super-rich of their day. The men who could make or break a family with one word: eviction. Although there’s a large cast of characters, the author introduces each with clarity through the eyes of Blakiston. A Just And Upright Man, is nothing short of a very enjoyable and worthwhile read. As this is Book 1 of a series, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to reading book 2.