Another one ticked off the #20BooksOfSummer list – number 8, although if you’re wondering where number 7 has gone, that was Nick Baker’s “ReWild” which was read specifically to review for Shiny New Books. Like my short review of “Popular“, it will therefore appear on here when the review is published on Shiny, so out of order with the numbering. We can cope with that, right? This Francis Brett Young book, and I do always love a book with a map in the front, don’t you? was a magical find outside Any Amount of Books on the Charing Cross Road, just £1 on that lovely November London book-buying trip I took (I might be at the end of those now, although one Icelandic one on my Pile also came from there).

Francis Brett Young – “The Black Diamond”

(Any Amount of Books, 19 November 2016)

A long drama set mainly in the Welsh borders but starting in the mining communities of the Black Country, this Hardyesque tale of fate and social issues takes us through the early life of Abner Fellows. Starting as a miner as soon as he’s old enough, he’s given a cushy job when he shows talent as a footballer, then loses out when he refuses to throw a match. All through the book there’s a strong theme of how being in or out of favour with the bosses and upper classes has a huge role to play in the lives of ordinary people, coupled with the wider chorus of the rest of the general population, moved to be divided and conquered and to concentrate on their own petty disagreements and being used to maintain the status quo through disapproval and common acting.

Abner has some standards, for example in matters of football, and if he makes a promise to a friend, he does endeavour to keep it, but although he’s frequently mentioned as being physically attractive, I don’t find him a morally attractive character, as he’s a bit of a chancer. But is this a role he’s forced into by his masters? His care for – and subsequent loss of – his dog (there is a second dog, which survives, for anyone concerned) maybe contributes to his difficult nature, if I’m being generous.

But the book is more than a portrait of one flawed man. Its contribution lies in its attention to societal issues, its recording of the building of Birmingham’s Elan Valley reservoir (this crops up a lot in his books and I also noted a reference to the hamlet of Far Forest, the setting for another of his novels), and careful and lyrical description of the physical world of the Welsh borders. I also liked the description of his senses all being super-aware during a midnight poaching session, as I was reading about how the senses work in the dark in “ReWild” at the time – a nice overlap.

Does Abner get his just deserts at the end of this sometimes exciting but sometimes slow, slightly uneven novel? He does achieve a freedom of sorts ….

This wasn’t my favourite of FBY’s novels, which are still “Far Forest” and “This Little World“, even “White Ladies“, read quite recently, but it was a fine read.

This was number 8 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


I’m reading “Oxford Mourning”, a light crime novel, and about to start Stuart Maconie’s “Long Road from Jarrow”, only one of which is a #20Books read. What are you up to reading-wise?