I’d been wanting to read this book for a long time, but I’d kept putting off the decision to buy it. As luck would have it, I chanced upon it in the local library and decided at once to borrow it. The title of the book was familiar to me, because I had read some amazing reviews and also because I happened to remember that it was the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize Award.
The book is set in 19th Century New Zealand, amidst the West Cost gold rush. The plot revolves around the incidents taking place late one evening in the Hokitika area and the various events leading upto it. It begins with a meeting of 12 men – each of whom has a role to play in these events. The incidents in question, comprise of 2 principle occurences – one concerning the death of a ‘hermit’ Crosbie Wells, who is found dead in his cottage by a politician travelling to the area and the second, concerning the alleged suicide attempt by Anna Wetherell, the most famous ‘whore’ in the area. Also, a bundle of gold, which is unaccounted for and worth a substantial amount of money is found in the hermit’s cottage later on.
The narrative then recounts the experiences of each and every single person present in the meeting room, thus revealing their part in the happenings. Their story, as told to one, Walter Moody, who happens to arrive at the room by chance, explains part of the mystery. The missing pieces are then slowly brought together, as the story proceeds and we come to terms with a sinister plot of lies, deceit and adultery…
Overall, this is a beautifully crafted novel and one of the best works I have read in recent times. Though the pace of the narrative is quite slow, its old world charm and eloquence makes it worth the read. One other thing I admired was the author’s attention to detail – the reason behind every critical action is explained away, leaving little room for doubt or speculation in the reader’s mind.
In conclusion, this is a must read for people with a love for works on the ‘Victorian’ era, historical fiction or even those who would enjoy a nice, slow mystery story. I should slip in a warning here though – the book is less about the mystery itself and more about the events and characters connected with it..