'Mathew's Tale', Quintin Jardine
When Sgt Mathew Fleming returns to his native Scotland after years spent fighting in Wellington's army, he finds that things have moved on in his sleepy little hometown. Things have also moved on for Quintin Jardine, as this new departure into historical fiction more than proves. Skinner may be starting to show his age, but Jardine himself is still fresh, and full of new ideas with which to tease his readers.
Post-Waterloo tales of return are not new, even in a Scottish setting. Nigel Tranter did much the same thing with his 'Island Twlight' (1947), and had the benefit of his own military experience in the Second World War to help him highlight the trauma of battle fatigue and displacement. Nor is there anything unusual about an historic novel which bases itself within the Scottish legal profession - Robert Louis Stevenson was arguably doing that, amongst other things, when he wrote 'Kidnapped' (1886) and its sequel 'Catriona' (1893). None of that detracts, however, from the pleasure of seeing one of Scotland's most popular modern authors dip his toe into a mixed genre piece, and produce for his readers a real treat in the process.
Mathew Fleming, both soldier at arms, and risking business man, is presented with a lighter touch than fans of Skinner might automatically expect. His return, and his adaptation to post-war circumstances are dealt with sympathetically, and the one-eyed Lowlander, for all his dour humour, soon grows on us. To call his 'tale' a mystery is to misrepresent it, for the reader knows from the outset who did what, who suffered for it, and to whom justice will eventually be done. Yet to simply classify it as 'historical' is equally unsatisfactory, given that Jardine brings so much of his previous experience writing criminal fiction to bear within its pages. In that sense, it is something of a hybrid, neither fish nor fowl, but a tasty morsel nevertheless. In it, readers will find new information of historical interest, a keen grasp of the changing face of British geography in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, and, in places, a bitingly cynical sense of humour. It is to be hoped that they will also find a place in their hearts for Mathew Fleming, sufficient to encourage Jardine to continue with what promises to be a very enjoyable series of books.
'Mathew's Tale' by Quintin Jardine will be published in hardcover by Headline on 1 October 2014.