A Just and Upright Man is a murder/mystery/ historical fiction novel set in Northern England during the 18th century. It gives an interesting glimpse into the different classes of people and their daily lives at that time. It also is rife with the language and idioms of that era which gives it a colorful flavor.
The first chapter introduces the reader to the rape of a commoner by the son of Lord Ravenshead. The young girl begs him not to do so, but he forces himself on her at the edge of the woods, in the cold of winter, then tosses her a coin, as if that made every alright. Lizzie Greener is devastated and very bitter. Lizzie’s circumstances play a major role in the plot of this book. Her desolation changes the lives of herself and her family.
The second chapter opens with the fire that destroys the home of Rueben Cooper and causes his death.
These two events set the stage for much of what happened in the book.
Cooper was despised by the people in the community, and although it was suspected that his death was foul play, most felt he got what he deserved and would have ignored the flames in the middle of the night. However, James Blakiston had other ideas. He ran from door to door, rousting people out to pour water on the flames. Blakiston was the new overseer for Lord Ravenshead’s estate, and as such he was seen to have a lot of power in the town. Those who might have wanted to defy him, knew better than to do so, because he could have destroyed them if he chose.
Blakiston was new in town. Before anyone knew he had arrived, he had dressed like poor commoner, and walked into town to get an impression of what it was really like. He had met Cooper, who showed him kindness and gave him food. When he realised that Cooper was the man who had died in the fire, he vowed to find out if he had been murdered. If there was foul play, Blakiston vowed to bring the culprit to justice.
As overseer for Lord Ravenshead, he interacted with the farmers, cottagers and all the small holders on the nobleman’s estate. As he took care of Lord Ravenshead’s business, he took every opportunity to ask probing questions about Rueben Cooper and who may have wanted to see him dead.
Ugly secrets came to light, but the amateur detective struggled to find proof of what had happened. Blakiston had his own baggage from the past. He also struggled with his attraction to Kate Greener. As a man born of stature, he knew that a relationship with a commoner like her would never be accepted.
Blakiston proved himself to be a “just and upright man” as he dealt with the issues he was faced with.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a twist of mystery and murder.
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