What drew me to this book was the location , having lived there for 10 years.
Maldon on the Blackwater estuary.
The book begins in 2014 and a follows DCI William Constable who is trying to catch an international drugs ring and help bring them down. It fails, and the case is put on the back burner, and he finds himself sent back to his own town of Maldon back on the beat.
We are then taken back to Maldon ( Maeldune ) in AD 991 , and follow the life of Wilheim . He works on the Salt pans for his slave master. ( Maldon Sea Salt ! )
What I really loved about the book was the way the story unfolds and interweaves through the two timelines and I found myself really wanting to know what happens in both their lives.
A very cleverly thought out story . Well done Paul Smith a master storyteller !
Original review: https://www.netgalley.co.uk/publisher/title/228707/reviews
by NetGalley review
I have worked in the Maldon area for the past 15 years and it was exciting and invigorating to read a book set in an area I know well, the story is engrossing and is as a much thriller as is it is a history lesson, the characters were believable and thankfully not your archetypal superhero cop which was a real pleasure.
Original review: https://www.netgalley.co.uk/book/228707/review/412372
by NetGalley review:
A great deal of research is evident in this glimpse into the Blackwater, both in the summer of 991 AD and again in
Spring and summer of 2014 AD.
The setting of Blackwater Estuary is presented as spooky, both in the tenth century and the twentieth. Located in Essex at the vergence of Blackwater River with the North Sea with several islands peppered among the wetlands, Blackwater is a birdwatchers haven. It has actually been designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and Special Protection Area and a Natural Nature Reserve. The city of Maldon is a centuries-long center for sea salt collection and the area has a history going back well into the Anglo-Saxon period. Paul Smith wraps all that history around the wetlands with a well-developed mystery and personable characters well defined. The Blackwater is an excellent introduction to this author and this unique seat of Norman history.
Original review: https://www.netgalley.co.uk/book/228707/review/312916
by NetGalley review
The Blackwater called out to me because of its 10th-century setting. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, but so little is available from this era. This leads me to what I loved about the novel.
The setting - Maldon, the Blackwater Estuary, and Osea Island. I've heard of Maldon salt, but I had no idea the salt works date back more than 1000 years. This region of England was the site of the Battle of Maldon, between Anglo-Saxons and Danish Vikings.
The battle's details haven't survived, but Paul Smith presents a thoroughly researched fictional recounting of the invasion. He describes the weaponry, battle strategies, and mud-dominated battlefield with details that made me feel like I was there. The slow pace of armies setting up, shield lines, archer lines, and foot soldiers all facing off and waiting for the call to fight. It must have been excruciating to wait for hours, knowing a brutal death was the likely outcome.
Smith's descriptions of the Viking armada, valkyries, and methods of execution were fascinating to read about - and the latter was memorably gruesome. The historical details in Smith's novel inspired me to go off and read more about the specific battle (not much) and Viking invasions of England in general (much more).
The Blackwater is a dual timeline novel, bouncing between the Battle of Maldon story and a modern-day crime story. The two accounts link up via Viking imagery, Danish villains, and a female apparition that reveals herself to the lead character at critical moments. So it's also a bit of a ghost story that works.
The plot of the crime aspect of the novel is well constructed. I enjoyed some of the twists and turns. Character development was pretty good, as well, and I did connect with most of the cast. However, the lead character suffers from unrelenting depression and suicide ideation. I understand this is a real experience, and I think the author did it justice, but it was pretty dark to read - unrelenting. Readers should consider this before they read the book.
My primary complaint with Smith's debut novel is the clumsy writing. It needed some solid editing. There were some redundancies of phrasing, and dialogue often felt unrealistic. I enjoyed the vocabulary stretch and occasionally looked up unfamiliar words, something I also want in a good read.
So for the plot and the original subject matter, I give the book 4-stars. For the writing, I give it 3-stars. If you are interested in Anglo-Saxon England and the Vikings or just crave a "new" period of history to read about, I can recommend The Blackwater. If you are very picky about your prose and read mainly for the language, this book may not deliver.
For me, I hope Paul Smith writes another novel. I'll read it.
Original review: https://www.netgalley.co.uk/book/228707/review/789533
by NetGalley review
Paul Smith was born in Maldon, the setting for THE BLACKWATER. Paul is a Veterinary Surgeon, and the author of several textbook chapters and publications. His career has led him to leave the Blackwater, but his passion for Maldon, its surrounding estuarine landscape and storied past endures.