1838 and under the new Poor Law the destitute are now housed in union workhouses.
Two men unknown to each other seek to uncover the suspected mistreatment of inmates in a small Suffolk workhouse. Edgar Lawes is a local landowner and justice of the peace; Ambrose Hudson a London journalist.
Establishing himself on the board Lawes is immediately disturbed by the inhumanity he finds. Hudson becomes an inmate and covertly keeps a journal of conditions and events which follow chronologically those of Edgar Lawes.
The complacency of the owners is shattered by a suicide, closely followed by the brutal murder of a workhouse official. In the wake of these two deaths unlikely friendships are forged and lives are changed, but will it be for the better?
This is an obviously well-researched novel on the conditions of poor houses in England in the 19th century. There are incredibly rich details of the conditions and life of the people who had no recourse but to go to the workhouses. The writing, too, is wonderful. Ms. Maskew carefully crafts her sentences so that they are tinged with Dickensian style. The main issue I have with the novel is that there isn’t much of a plot. For a mystery, it is rather thin. Yes, there is a murder, and no, we don’t know who did it, but it is not nearly as engaging as I wished it to be. The seconds section with Ambrose’s journal entries is the best chunk of the book, and definitely kept me turning the pages, but the rest is just a rehash of action we already know.
I’m not sure I’ll continue with this series. It just did not live up to what it promised.