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This is the third book in the Poldark series, and like my reviews, they are designed to be read in chronological order.
However, I am not giving away any major plot spoilers for previous books in this review. Especially I am deliberately not giving away the name of Ross's wife, as in previous books he has been deeply in love twice.
I'm also not going to tell you who the Jeremy Poldark, in the title of the book, is either, as the reader won't find out about him until the end of the book. The author does name the early books in this series after characters in them, and I suppose he thought Jeremy might well evolve into one of the main characters. I suspect he might too. Any plot details I give about this book are for scene setting and occur near the beginning.
This book begins darkly. A young Poldark has died and Capt Ross is taking it particularly badly. Fortunately, his wife is coping better, though not because she loved this person any less.
Added to this, there are many more worries. The smelting business, that he had invested a lot of time and money in, failed. This is made worst by the fact that he suspects that betrayal by his cousin was a serious contributory factor in the scheme's doom. Ross is also facing charges in the criminal court, for which he might be sentenced to death or transportation to Australia. Even if he survives the court case, it will probably only be a matter of months before his bankruptcy and imprisonment in a debtors' prison, so his future seems very bleak.
When Ross asks for legal advise about making an up to date will, he is told that it should be a very straightforward job. In fact all that is suggested by the pessimistic lawyer is, "I leave all my debts to my wife." This ironic advice is partly to try to jolt Ross into abandoning his reckless ideas about his defence at the trial.
Despite the depressing start, his wife's positive attitude to life, in the face of all these adversities, is the one thing that kept me wanting to urgently read on.
She has a good reason to try to help a neighbour. He has a sick cow that the vet doesn't know how to help. If an old wife's tale remedy that she has heard of works, or even appears to work, then the neighbour will be very grateful, although we don't know at this stage why she is particularly trying to win his favour. At least she thinks that this "remedy" will do no harm. If you have my sense of humour the "remedy" will make you laugh. It is, "Open up the tail and put in a boiled onion." Poor cow!
Some recent good news for the district is that they now have two doctors, and the newest one, a recently qualified doctor, who Ross is employing to help the workers at his mine, is successfully treating more than he is killing. This seems unusual according to this author, and I find some common treatments of the time morbidly interesting.
This young doctor, unlike a lot of his profession, including the original doctor in the area, believes that drugs and potions are as likely to hinder a recovery as to help, so he is very selective when prescribing these. Also he doesn't believe that bleeding patients is always a good thing, although he will use this method occasionally.
When the word gets around that this radical thinking, young doctor doesn't mind attending to poor folk, who can only pay him in kind (eg eggs), or maybe not even that, he soon builds up a large practice. Being a genuinely caring person, he is very conscious of his decent clothes, especially when attending the very poorest. His patients trust him, and he is genuinely pleased if he is able to help them. Unlike a lot of his contemporises, he knows he still has much to learn about medicine.
All of the above happens very early in the book, and the plot then centres on Bodmin, where a parliamentary election in going on in the same week as Ross's trial. This trial is one of many on the crowded lists, as previous assizes had been cancelled due to high levels of the infectious "fever". This makes the town extremely busy, and visitors include many people that are important to the plot.
Thankfully the main problem the region had in electing its representatives for Parliament wouldn't happen today, but the following quote from one of the candidates in reply to a question from his lady friend, asking why he is being pleasant to the "rabble", shows to me that the attitude of many politicians has not changed over the years. He says, "It's only for five or six days, then they can be forgotten for as many years."
Although I am unhappy with our present electoral system that makes it possible for one party to have a huge parliamentary majority with less than 50% of the votes, the system outlined in this story makes this seem good. Although the Poldark stories are fiction, they are based on fact, so I assume similar things did happen. If I hadn't been impressed with the historical accuracy of other background information in these books, I would have assumed this kind of thing wouldn't have happened in the history of the Mother of Parliaments. I found this part of the plot interesting, although not exciting.
For those who find politics boring, this part of the plot could be off-putting, but the plot soon speeds up after this section, with the most exciting parts still to be read.
Many who were in town because of the elections, also wanted to enjoy the entertainment of the trail. I felt like I was there with them, as the author described, in atmospheric detail, the scene in the stuffy crowded hall. The sellers of food and drink were driven out just before the judge entered with his aromatic herbs and handkerchief soaked in vinegar.
I can find legal argument very dull, but this was not so in Ross's trial. No doubt the nature of the alleged crime, and the recollections of the exciting circumstances of the night in question, as well as the surprises that this part held for me, kept my interest well. I was surprised that Ross lead his own defence, at the evidence of some of the witnesses, and also by the summing up by the judge, but I can't tell you why, as it would spoil the plot. The tension then mounts as the result of the jury's deliberations is awaited.
The reader will to able to learn much about the way a court was run at the time, and if they know how courts are run today, will be able to compare many similarities.
As some strands of the plot come to a conclusion, another strand near the end of the book left me eager to read the next one in this series about the characters that I now feel I know extremely well.
This is one of the thinner volumes in the Poldark series of 12 books, which covers the period from 1790-91. This shorter book is slightly cheaper than most of the others.
I think that this series of books, including this one, bring the history of the period to life, as well as giving me great entertainment. The varied plots and sub-plots mean that I haven't got bored with them, and am always anxious for the next in the series.
Sadly the present series of 12 can't be added to by the author, Winston Graham OBE, as he died in 2003, aged 93. During his life he had many literary successes, and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. As well as the Poldark books he wrote many thrillers, including Marnie, the novel that was turned into a classic Hitchcook film.
As well a love of writing, he had a love for Cornwall, which shines through in the Poldark books.
I hope you enjoy reading about the Poldarks as much as I do.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Pan Books (6 Jun 2008)
Ross Poldark stands accused of wrecking two ships. Despite their stormy marriage, Demelza has tried to rally support for her husband. But there are enemies who would be happy to see Ross convicted, not least George Warleggan, the powerful banker, whose personal rivalry grows ever more intense.