Book Club with Anna Caig
Stone and Water by David James Buckley
‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ So begins LP Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go-Between. And this could equally be the slogan for Stone and Water, the debut crime novel from Sheffield-based writer David James Buckley.
The setting is the West Riding of the 1950s, and this foreign country is saturated in chauvinism, homophobia and prejudice. When a young boy is killed, the already smouldering tensions between the police and the teddy boys, the police and the working class community, and the police and just about everybody else, become even more fraught.
Even members of the same family are pitted against each other as the strain grows.
Carol, the woman at the centre of the story, is vulnerable, new to the town and has plenty of secrets of her own. But she finds herself embroiled in the murder investigation, as well as the subject of amorous attention from married detective Jim Bible. Buckley avoids easy clichés here though: in some ways Bible is a good man who wants to do the right thing, but his abuse of his position of authority and morally dubious conduct towards a much younger, vulnerable woman undermines this. His questionable behaviour in a personal capacity provides an interesting counterpoint to his professional police work. The West Yorkshire setting is beautifully depicted. Buckley was born in Bradford, and he writes well about the blackened stone buildings of the neighbouring small town, and the wide open spaces and great reservoirs on its doorstep. There is an authenticity in the sense of place borne of his familiarity with the area. Buckley populates his story with some interesting, nuanced characters. Not only do we have the multi-faceted Bible, but another stand-out is Miss Browning, the formidable headmistress of the local school. When Carol is forced to find a new place to live, she ends up lodging with Miss Browning in a move that fills us with relief. This is a woman who gives the impression she could single-handedly take on a murderer, all the local ruffians and the whole police force, armed with nothing more than a steely, disapproving stare. She’s great company. Buckley convincingly describes the prejudices of the 1950s, whilst exposing their toxicity with a more modern understanding. The deadly effects of an unopposed patriarchy are laid bare here, from Bible’s attitude of entitlement right through to the full horror of a father who believes his daughters are his property to control. This is a compelling and sometimes shocking read.