Today’s team review is from Sue.
Sue blogs here https://suelbavey.wordpress.com/
Sue has been reading Irex by Carl Rackman (A book that featured on our review list a few years ago)
It is difficult to believe that this novel is a debut – Rackman’s atmospheric prose, complex characters and many-layered plot drew me in right from the start and left me wanting more right up until the tension filled final acts! In fact there was a surprising revelation right at the end which leaves open the possibility of a sequel one day.
Based on an actual historical event – the mysterious shipwreck of the sailing vessel Irex – but a fictional retelling thereof, the writing style immediately transports the reader to an earlier time period and the dialogue is both believable and ‘of its time’. The evocative descriptions add levels of menace to what is essentially an intriguing mystery: What exactly happened to cause the shipwreck and the tragic loss of lives associated with it?
“The shriek of the wind was the sound of tormented souls. It rose and fell with each gust and was answered by the groaning members of the ship itself, the lines stretched to their limit and humming a morose dirge.”
The chapters switch between two time frames, each with its own disparate cast of characters, that of the doomed maiden voyage of the Irex and a couple of months later, the inquest into what exactly happened on board this ill-fated ship to cause the deaths of most of its crew and passengers.
Rackman’s characterisation is skillful and many layered. The crew is made up of a large cast, including a hard-working and dedicated chef, boisterous youths and a surly bosun. The main point of view character, Captain Will Hutton comes across as pious, dedicated to his position, and concerned for his new ship and for the smooth running of its maiden voyage at the beginning of the story, if somewhat plagued by semi-prophetic dreams. However, some of the surviving crew claim that he lost his grip on reality just before the devastating tragedy occurred. There is also Mackie, an outgoing first mate whose description is particularly vivid:
“His head was large with meaty features, not handsome but more reminiscent of a Hereford bull.
His words rumbled like a Glasgow tram.”
Carrying only three passengers, we meet on board the beautiful young wife, Mrs Elizabeth Barstow who has enough feminine wiles to entrance anyone and manipulate them however she chooses. Is she the reason the married Captain was driven to distraction? Major Barstow is her sickly, older husband and Mr Clarence is a boorish, well-connected gentleman with a superiority complex and a particularly shocking secret identity. This was a twist I found completely unexpected, but which added a delicious threat of intimidation and jeopardy for the crew and passengers.
In the chapters detailing the inquest we meet the judge and barristers. Mr Frederick Blake, Her Majesty’s Coroner for Hampshire County, is the presiding inquisitor, a straightforward and honest man who smells something fishy – could there be a spy in his courtroom? We also meet the brave and tenacious Scottish reporter, Rennie, who Blake befriends and takes into his confidence.
Slowly the layers of intrigue are built up. Blackmail? Mutiny? Madness? Murder? All are possibilities entertained by Blake during his meticulous investigation, even as he is hampered by Matthew Thornthwaite, a suspiciously well-informed replacement for an unfortunate predecessor on the coroner’s panel. Blake immediately suspects there is more to this man than meets the eye and becomes determined to catch him out, but up against the fearsome British Establishment what little chance can he have to retain his integrity?
The story gets more and more intriguing as the clues begin to stack up in Blake’s chapters and events play out before our eyes in the Captain’s chapters. The pace of this story becomes absolutely frenetic during the perilous storms and the action ramps up accordingly.
Highly recommended for fans of mystery, tales of the high seas and well-written historical fiction in general.
In the harsh winter of December 1889, the sailing vessel Irex leaves Scotland bound for Rio de Janeiro. She carries three thousand tons of pig iron and just three passengers for what should be a routine voyage. But Captain Will Hutton discovers that one of his passengers hides a horrifying secret.
When the Irex is wrecked off the Isle of Wight six weeks later, it falls to the county coroner, Frederick Blake, to begin to unravel the events that overtook the doomed ship — but he soon finds that powerful forces within the British Establishment are working to thwart him. Locked in a race against time and the sinister agents sent to impede him, he gradually discovers that nothing aboard the Irex is what it first seemed…
Irex is an atmospheric mystery, set in a rich Victorian world, packed with intrigue, twists and colourful characters — the spellbinding first novel by Carl Rackman.