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Havoc, in Its Third Year: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 24, 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bennett (The Catastrophist) pens an evocative, somber account of a man facing a crisis of spirit and conscience in early 17th-century England, when "men of property were gripped by fears" and decried the poor, the immigrant and the unemployed as spreaders of crime and sin. Upstanding town coroner and governor John Brigge, a man of "the old faith" who "lived with signs and saints," is called to investigate the death of a baby allegedly murdered by the child's own mother, Katherine Shay, a proud Irish Catholic woman. She denies not only the crime but the right of her Puritan inquisitors to try her. Brigge, struck by the young woman's refusal to quietly accept her fate, begins to believe that she may indeed be innocent. But because the townspeople have already decided she is guilty—and have sniffed about Bennett the secret airs of a papist—he understands that his own fate will hinge on whether or not he goes along with those who claim to work for the benefit of God, even as they serve their own selfish ends. Marvelously told, with memorable characters, powerful dialogue and description, and subtly drawn parallels to contemporary issues, this is one of the more rewarding historical novels to come along in some time.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


'As uncompromising as a biblical text, Bennett's drama captures life in the raw -- both in the dock and the chamber. A modern parable in historic guise' Independent, 24/6/05 -- Independent 20050624 'This is a gripping novel, its narrative staggered with betrayal and intrigue and suffused with the hot threat of violence. Bennett's prose is economical, powerful, and often poetic' -- The Times 20040911 'Bennett's evocation of a corner of England on the edge of apocalypse is wonderfully done! the novel's language is flowing yet exact, marked with a wonderful strangeness' -- Kathryn Hughes, Guardian 20040904 'An accomplished and ambitious work of fiction! HAVOC is Bennett's best novel to date, and deserves a significant place in the modern canon' -- Observer 18991230 'Superb! already long-listed for the Booker, HAVOC, IN ITS THIRD YEAR has the pedigree of a novel that can, and should, go further. It is a thrillingly satisfying piece of work' -- Sunday Telegraph 20040912 'Both an atmospheric thriller and a consternating study of the horrors of fundamentalism! grim, compelling and ultimately bracing reading' -- Irish Independent 20040912 'Searingly powerful! a fable and parable for all times -- and ours in particular! sublimely written' -- Stevie Davies, Independent 20040903 'Bennett is a gifted writer with relentless fascination for misery' Independent on Sunday, 12/6/05 -- Independent on Sunday 20050612 'Ronan Bennett's most accomplished and compelling novel to date' Observer, 16/6/05 -- Observer 20050616 'This powerful historical novel resounds with contemporary significance' Telegraph, 11/6/05 -- Telegraph, 20050611 'Powerful, atmospheric...particularly strong on evoking physical intimacy' Guardian, 16/6/05 -- Guardian 20050616 'Bennett's compelling story of an honourable man forced to choose between personal and public duty works both as historical fiction and as a subtle, oblique parable for our own times' The Sunday Times, 24/7/05 -- The Sunday Times 20050724 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743258568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743258562
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,671,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Set in the north of England in the early 1630s, this novel artfully captures the political, social, and religious turmoil during the reign of King Charles I. A distant and autocratic king, Charles fails to take into account the enormous religious changes sweeping both Europe and England and undermining his own power. Puritanical grassroots movements have now sprung up, with many local leaders, both religious and civil, calling for reform and purification. John Brigge, a coroner living in the remote countryside, is one of twelve reform-minded governors aiding Nathaniel Challoner, the Master, in his "Revolution of the Saints" and his project to "build a city on the hill."

Though he attends the prescribed protestant church, Brigg is in reality a "papistical malignant," a man who walks the difficult line between the Puritanism of the Master, a lifelong friend, and his belief that "men must have mercy, for without mercy we are savages." When Brigge is suddenly called to conduct an inquest on an infant found dead in a local pub, he discovers that Katherine Shay, a Catholic deemed "prideful, brazen, and uncontrite," has been arrested for the murder.

With numerous subplots and much intrigue, the story of Katherine Shay's arrest and John Brigge's search for justice on her behalf evolves. The period comes to life on every level of society as the author shows in realistic detail the kinds of gruesome punishments meted out for "sins," the harshness of life for the homeless poor, the dependence of farmers on luck and weather, the fragility of life, the excesses of religious extremism, and the abiding power of love.
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Format: Hardcover
The author's setting for this work in early 17th century England. This is a well done piece of historical fiction by any standard. The author has obviously done his research. Because of the time, religion, sin, faith, morals and leadership all come into play. I was struck by the timelessness of this work. When you take a close look at the problems encountered by the primary characters in the book, we find this same theme repeated time and again throughout history, indeed our own history. Many of the incidents taking place here, in 1630 could be ripped from the pages of "Grapes of Wrath." It does not take a great leap to turn on the evening news and catch glipses of the very problems the author addresses here. That being said, I do feel the author's wonderful use of the language, his character development and insight to human character make the book well worth the read. Very much recommend this one. It should make you think!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I may have found the perfect historical novel.

Havoc, in Its Third Year answers every qualm I've had about the genre. It's saturated with history without hitting the reader over the head with names and dates. Its plots and subplots are inextricably bound up with the historical issues at hand (religious and political strife in seventeenth-century England), so there is no tension between history and mystery.

The dialogue has the barest hint of archaism to it, light enough not to be obtrusive, but just enough to remind readers that the story's time is not their own. The protagonist, a discreetly Catholic coroner and civic official named John Brigge, is one of the most admirable characters in all of fiction. There's even murder mixed in.

I do much of my reading late at night, so I could well rate books by how late they keep me up. Havoc, in Its Third Year receives the first-ever, surely soon to be coveted Detectives Beyond Borders 6+ rating, for keeping me up past 6 a.m.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
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Format: Paperback
Knowledge of medieval English history is a boon though not a prequisite for enjoying "Havoc, In Its Third Year", a brilliantly crafted, nominally genred as murder mystery and arguably the best novel to date by Ronan Bennett. The kangaroo trial of Irish woman Katherine Shay for the alleged killing of an infant assumed to be her child is the catalyst that ignites the fire within John Brigge, a coroner and above all a good man, to get to the bottom of the case and see that justice is done even at the cost of his own life and that of his family.

As an Asian reader without any knowledge whatsoever of the politics of the times as between Catholics and Protestants etc, the universality of the novel's theme about the right of an individual to exercise compassion and forgiveness (ie, what it means to be human) is one so powerful as to render any disadvantage from the lack of historical knowledge irrelevant.

It seems too much of a coincidence that in my reading of the book I should be keenly reminded of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible". John Brigge bears a strong resemblence to the John Proctor character in "The Crucible" and his situation to Proctor's one-man crusade against the witch hunt of the McCarthyist era in America. Even his secret shame - a past adulterous affair he deeply regrets with Dorcas, the servant girl, his wife Elizabeth's unexpressed knowledge of it - is almost identical to Proctor's tragic situation that would lead ultimately to his undoing. Adultery, conscionable treachery, dishonourable compromise are all common failings, but there is redemption yet if one has the courage to remember what it means to be human.

Bennett's writing is gloriously profound. His prose flows beautifully.
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