It is a time of change in the isolated Somerset village of Oakham. Four days before Lent 1491, the wealthy landlord appears to have been swept away by the flooded river. But was he murdered? Did he take his own life? Is he, in fact, dead at all?
The parish priest, young John Reve, narrates the story of the four days, starting with day four and working backwards. Revelations come satisfyingly fast, as the scheming local Dean investigates and queasy secrets are revealed in the confessional and elsewhere… But there is more to this story.
Tensions have risen in the village over whether a recently built (and recently collapsed) bridge, intended to end Oakham’s isolation, should be replaced. Oakham is wedded to its own traditions, some of which are clearly pagan, but is unable to ignore the world outside. Not least as the Bishop has been imprisoned, and the local monastery is angling to seize village lands.
The missing landlord had recently returned from a pilgrimage in Europe, and described in sensuous terms the banquet of commodities on offer: “Spanish olive oil, as golden-green as those young grain fields; silk from Sicily; Indian pepper, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg; dried rhubarb and galingale from eastern China; aloes from the lands around the Red Sea; cloves that are violent on the tongue; brocades and great noble tapestries; Syrian ash in Venetian glass and scented soap; Asian elephant tusks and unicorn horns that change hands in Alexandria and go to Paris for carving; Indian emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, lapis lazuli from the Oxus, Persian pearls and turquoise”. The contrast with the literally stagnating muddy pariochial village, whose crops are failing this year, is painful. It feels like Harvey may be asking us to draw parallels with the deep and raw debates happening now about the UK’s relationship with Europe.
The Western Wind is a gripping historical crime mystery, evocative and psychologically convincing, and would appeal to fans of C J Sansom, Ellis Peters, and Hilary Mantel. Harvey shows us what can happen when change affects faith, the climate, and how we see ourselves in the world.