Redlegs by Chris Dolan
Chris Dolan leaves the mainly Glaswegian setting of his previous novel Ascension Day and relocates to the Caribbean for this tale. Elspeth Baillie, a young Scottish actress, is invited to Barbados by Lord Coak, a rich plantation owner. Her fortunes turn badly when a terrible storm destroys the theatre she was to act in, and also kills the man she was engaged to.
Forced to take employment on Coak’s plantation, which is at first theoretically temporary, she is drawn into the machinery of slavery as she has to ‘employ’ white slaves, and later augment them by importing impoverished Scots women. Elspeth’s life is somehow bound up with these women – she can’t leave the plantation, though through fear rather than duress, and she gradually begins to accept her situation… Dolan took 21 years to complete this novel, and though obviously not all of that time was spent writing it, the care and attention brought to it shows. The amount of research put in to it adds to the book’s quality, but whilst this research is important, it would all be for nothing if it didn’t back up a compelling tale. Dolan tells such a tale, and does so extremely well. [John Inglis]