Friday 16 June 2023

Forgotten Book - Strike for a Kingdom

When I was researching Welsh crime fiction for my British Library anthology of Welsh mysteries, I came across several names previously unfamiliar to me, including that of Menna Gallie. Gallie (1919-90) was a Welsh translator, writer, and political activist who only published one novel in the crime genre, Strike for a Kingdom (1959). But it was good enough to be in contention for a Gold Dagger, so I decided to take a look.

The book was reprinted a few years ago by Honno, with a useful intro by Angela V. John which sets the story in context. By today's standards, it's a very short novel, and none the worse for concision. As a detective novel, it has definite limitations, but it's worth reading for the excellent portrayal of a small Welsh mining community, in the fictional village of Cilhendre, at a time of profound stress - the miners'  strike of 1926. In other words, it's a history-mystery.

One of the things I liked about the story was the occasional flashes of wit. Times were tough in those days - the locals dream about nationalisation of the mines leading to a sort of modern utopia - but although some of the social issues are presented in a partial and simplistic way, the characterisation is mostly very good and in some cases poignant.

Exceptions to this are the victim (the nasty manager of the mine) and the police inspector: both are cartoonish figures. But there's a humanity about much of the writing that appealed to me. For a first novel, it's a very mature piece of work. Gallie continued to publish occasionally, but moved away from mysteries, probably because the constraints of plotting didn't suit her priorities as an author. If you like Welsh fiction - and Wales is a country I've always loved, so I do, very much - then this is well worth a read.


No comments: