Now We Shall Be Entirely Free
I was bereft at finishing Andrew Miller's latest book, now available in paperback. I never wanted it to end, yet was unable to put it down until I knew the truth.
The book begins, appropriately, with a journey since it is about a man's flight, from dangers that he has escaped, to others - less obvious, but even more deadly - that subsequently follow him. We are puzzled by the mysteries, of what he saw, and might possibly have done.
Miller's main protaganist is a cavalryman, returning from the Peninsula war almost moribund after retreating on foot across Spain, and suffering what we would recognise as post-traumatic stress. He has witnessed things that should never have happened. Things the authorities intend to cover up, at whatever cost to young Captain Lacroix. Things in which he was in some way involved, though his mind recoils from remembering the detail.
With the idea of returning to active duty repugnant, Lacroix flees to the Hebrides in the hope of recovering, physically and mentally. What he does not know - though we do, gnawing our nails with anxiety - is that he is being pursued by a menacing corporal, under secret orders to find and silence him for ever. But under orders from whom? A shadowy figure, impossible to identify in a darkened room, but wearing a glittering star on his breast which made me, at least, think of a portrait by Goya of a famous and scarlet-uniformed duke.
This is a book with the grip of a thriller. With a worthy hero, who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A man with a conscience. So traumatised that he froze when he should have acted. Yet a man who finally meets a heroine with faint echoes of Lizzie Bennett who offers him peace of mind.
I find Andrew Miller's writing wonderfully evocative, opening with a hackney cab carrying a passenger close to death through dreadful weather:
"...lanes crazy with rain..its sides slabbed with mud...the lantern on the cab had guttered out a mile back. Creeping forward, muttering to the horse, the cab swaying on its axle (the driver) could not rid himself of the feeling he was walking down into the sea and would soon feel the surf break against his boots. Nonsense of course. There was no sea for a hundred miles. For a span of seconds the moon came free of cloud and he saw...moonlight on the yardarm bough of a big tree..."
I have long considered the scorn heaped on that famous phrase: It was a dark and stormy night to be unfair. In this book, Andrew Miller sets a similar scene for us, with brilliance.
If you enjoy gripping historical thrillers, this is one for you.