Father and Son, Landyn and Vale Midwinter, are men of the land. Suffolk farmers. Times are hard and they struggle to sustain their property, their livelihood and their heritage in the face of competition from big business.

But an even bigger, more brutal fight is brewing. A fight about the terrible death of Cecelia - beloved wife and mother - in Zambia ten years earlier. 

Over the course of freezing Suffolk Winter, Landwyn and Vale grapple with their guilt and pain, clashing with each other every bit as fiercely as they cling to Cecilia’s memory. While Vale makes increasingly desperate decisions, Landwyn retreats, finding solace in the land, his animals - and a fox who haunts the farm and brings with her both comfort and protection.

In this quietly stunning debut, the author Fiona Melrose has created the astutely-drawn playing out of a family crisis. At the beating of its guilty heart is the raw and pulsing countryside against which the two strands of the story (the past on a farm in Zambia, the present in England's Suffolk), are dramatically countered. 

Fiona has that rarest gift of breathing life into her characters, as well as the worlds in which they live. The reader can almost feel the ache contracting in a father’s heart when he tries to find a way to break through the pain that wraps around his son. And, how poetic are Landwyn's words, compared to Vale's blunt despair while the natural world around them reflects the anguish in their hearts ~ such as on the dreary foggy day when Landwyn turns to Vale to say: 

“It’s like a big old grey rabbit just sat down on our corner of the earth this morning.”

Whether fretting for his son or the injured beasts upon his farm, the tenderness of the older man is perhaps the very quality that has led to the failures in his life. But is this something cowardly, is it selfish, or is it born from love - or perhaps a mixture of all three - when he looks at Pup, his dying dog, and can’t bear to think of what must come.

“I ached from it all. Sat with my Pup awhile. I don’t feel myself when I’m apart from her for too long, it’s like losing your shadow or walking with one shoe on. She was messing herself a bit these days, I knew it was time to get the vet round. But when is it the right time? She seemed happy in herself, trotting around, always looking for a bit of fuss. Still, been with me since Cessie passed. I dare say she helped me raise young Vale.”

The dog, and also a vixen that Landwyn finds upon his farm, are the living symbols of the past that gnaws into his memories. But another crisis will soon come to test the strength of both these men, and to kindle the hope for their future lives.

Midwinter ~ published Corsair in hardback on 2nd November 2016.

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