The Assassin in Pentlow
I sometimes wonder if I'm getting blase. After the excitement of finding that there was a food-riot at my home in May 1772, at which two people were sentenced to death, comes the news that a new novel by a best-selling author is based on my next-door-neighbours' house.
The latter is notable because it is a book by Ronnie Blythe, who is one of the most respected of local historians in East Anglia. The book is 'The Assassin' and it is a creative attempt to understand why John Felton assassinated George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, in 1628. It is an ingenious use of the novel as a way of doing a forensic analysis of the reasons for a crime
Ronnie Blythe's skill is to understand the times, and to portray the heady mix of spirituality and testosterone that so characterised the age. It is also great fun to read. The story starts at Pentlow Hall, and describes place and the landscape around with a wonderfully economical style . Blythe was, I seem to remember, born in Sudbury and has an encyclopaediac knowledge of the area and its history.
I recently re-read Blythe's classic 'Akenfield'. It has actually improved with age. It was the first of its kind; living histories that use the peoples own voices to portray the intricate quilt of lives in the Suffolk villages.
What marks out Akenfield was his subtle and tactful probing, and his deep understanding of the way that Suffolk people responded to the christian faith
Ronald Blythe was able to gain the confidence of a community to the extent that they were able to trust him to get it right. The interviewer can never be a passive instrument, and every word of Akenfield has somehow been filtered through that poetic eye that brings an apparent 'booming, buzzing confusion' into crystal clarity. Others have tried to reproduce that miracle but it needed Ronnie's particular chemistry to make it happen.
The Assassin, Black Dog Books 2004, ISBN 0-9528839-9-6