Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Review: The Winter Siege by D.W. Bradbridge


1643. The armies of King Charles I and Parliament clash in the streets and fields of England, threatening to tear the country apart, as winter closes in around the parliamentary stronghold of Nantwich. The royalists have pillaged the town before, and now, they are returning. But even with weeks to prepare before the Civil War is once more at its gates, that doesn’t mean the people of Nantwich are safe.

While the garrison of soldiers commanded by Colonel George Booth stand guard, the town’s residents wait, eyeing the outside world with unease, unaware that they face a deadly threat from within. Townspeople are being murdered – the red sashes of the royalists left on the bodies marking them as traitors to the parliamentary cause.

When the first dead man is found, his skull caved in with a rock, fingers start being pointed, and old hatreds rise to the surface. It falls to Constable Daniel Cheswis to contain the bloodshed, deputising his friend, Alexander Clowes, to help him in his investigations, carried out with the eyes of both armies on his back. And they are not the only ones watching him.  He is surrounded by enemies, and between preparing for the imminent battle, watching over his family, being reunited with his long-lost sweetheart, and trying, somehow, to stay in business, he barely has time to solve a murder.

With few clues and the constant distraction of war, can Cheswis protect the people of Nantwich? And which among them need protecting? Whether they are old friends or troubled family, in these treacherous times, everyone’s a traitor, in war, law, or love.

When the Winter Siege is through, who will be among the bodies?

Electric Reads | October 1st, 2013 | 488 pages

My Review

D.W. Bradbridge's debut novel, The Winter Siege, is set in the pro-Parliament town of Nantwich at the height of the English Civil War.  When one of the townsfolk is found dead with a red sash, symbol of the royalist cause, draped around his body, constable Daniel Cheswis is called upon to investigate.  But Daniel has barely started into his investigation when another murder involving a victim draped in a red sash is committed.  With few clues to go on, and more murders taking place, Daniel must race against time to solve the murders before it becomes too difficult to do so, for Nantwich is in the direct path of the Royalist forces who are bent on bringing the town to its knees.

While much of the The Winter Siege is concerned with solving the murders, this novel is much more than just an historical mystery.  Set against the backdrop of the English Civil War, the narrative showcases life in a Parliamentary town at a time when it was threatened with attack by Royalist forces.  Although Nantwich itself is decidedly pro-Parliament, Bradbridge shows that many of the town's most prominent citizens were, in fact, staunch supporters of the monarchy but smart enough not to flaunt their true loyalties.  While it appears that the book's protagonist, Daniel Cheswis, supports the aims of Parliament, I liked that Bradbridge never explicitly states the views of his principal character.  Given the tensions between pro-parliamentarians and pro-royalists, to be effective in his work as a town constable Daniel must be seen to be unbiased no matter his personal views.  

There is much to like about The Winter Siege, chief of which is the novel's protagonist, Daniel Cheswis, who is characterized as intelligent, bold and committed to uncovering the truth.  I genuinely liked Daniel and wanted him to succeed.  Several of the novel's secondary characters also made a positive impression on me, especially Daniel's housekeeper Mrs. Padgett, whose constant, well-meaning meddling in Daniel's life was endearing.  The mystery at the heart of the novel is a good one, and leaves the reader guessing as to the identity of the perpetrator right up until the very end.  While I enjoyed the novel and would read more from D.W. Bradbridge, I had a few issues with the story that ultimately brought my rating down.  My principal issue concerns the novel's length.  I don't mind lengthy books so long each aspect of the narrative is important to the advancement of the story or helps to create a sense of time and place, but, for me at least, The Winter Siege contained too much extraneous detail.  This detail slowed the story down in places and interrupted its flow.  While I really liked the fact that there was much more to this novel than just the mystery component, at times I felt there were too many things going on, and that these goings on detracted from rather than enhanced the main storyline.  I must, however, give Bradbridge credit for effectively linking all the novel's seemingly unrelated events up by the story's end.   

Prior to picking up The Winter Siege I'd only read a few novels set during the English Civil War.  As such, I was a little lost as to the importance of certain people, places and events associated with the time period mentioned in the book.  As a result, the novel has reinforced my desire to learn more about this time period and the people and places who played a pivotal role in it.    

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Source:  I received a copy of this novel as part of D.W. Bradbridge's Virtual Book Tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Winter Siege is currently on tour!  Click here to check out the tour schedule -- you'll find links to other reviews, as well giveaways, author guest posts and interviews.

About the Author

D.W. Bradbridge was born in 1960 and grew up in Bolton. He has lived in Crewe, Cheshire since 2000, where he and his wife run a small magazine publishing business for the automotive industry.

“The inspiration for The Winter Siege came from a long-standing interest in genealogy and local history. My research led me to the realisation that the experience endured by the people of Nantwich during December and January 1643-44 was a story worth telling. I also realised that the closed, tension-filled environment of the month-long siege provided the ideal setting for a crime novel."

“History is a fascinating tool for the novelist. It consists only of what is remembered and written down, and contemporary accounts are often written by those who have their own stories to tell. But what about those stories which were forgotten and became lost in the mists of time?"

“In writing The Winter Siege, my aim was to take the framework of real history and fill in the gaps with a story of what could, or might have happened. Is it history or fiction? It’s for the reader to decide.”

For more information please visit D.W. Bradbridge’s website. You can also find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

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