Just as I checked on Amazon when the book was written, I realized it had 853 pages. Reading with the Kindl changes that perception. Even though it was a lengthy book.
Set in the New Zealand of the 19th century, and the gold rush on the South Island, it told the story of a crime. A vast amount of gold is found, a man is dead, a whore is found unconscious, and one man is missing. And slowly slowy, the story of what happened that night is uncovered. Person by person, we follow the various characters of the camp around. The Chinese who wants to avenge his father, but speaks almost no English. The whore who was lured into the business on false premises. The young Brit, who is ashamed of his family history. The wife of the gaoler, who thinks of the past. Person by person, we learn about their past and their stories, and how they came to be at this rainy but beautiful, harsh place. We learn about their hopes and their ambitions, and about their involvement in what happened that very night.
It took me some time to get attached to the story. I was very annoyed by it in the beginning. Still am, a bit. It’s written in great style. The language sounds old, but beautiful, as far as I can judge as a not-native speaker it takes great skill to write like that, and I did enjoy that. But it’s a story of men. The first scene, where we enter this room of a secret meeting, a meeting of twelve men, who attempt to understand what happened, who try to get control over the camp back. This is emblematic for the book. It’s the story of important men. Some of these men have wives, alright, but they mostly feature as ‘wife of X’. These days, I just get too annoyed by stories where women do not feature. And even more so when the writer is a woman. ‘You should know better!’ I shouted at her, in my mind. It does improve a bit, towards the end. We learn more about Anna, the whore, Mrs Carver, or whatever her name may be at a given moment in the story. These two characters become more and more important, which considerably improved my mood, and opinion about the book.
For 850 pages, I have to say, the book manages incredibly well to keep the tension. Things keep happening. Stories unravel. New developments unfold. Unknown aspects emerge. The frame with the astronomical and astrological constellations, however, looks nice, but is a bit devoid of meaning. That could have been left out.