The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers, published by Bluemoose Books.
The Gallows Pole is rich, wet, dark, glittering. Words glimmer like the clippings of the coins, scattered in peat and moss, across a stony path. Like a bitter cross wind dragging leaves and hail, the land and the weather drive the story as much as the characters portrayed.
It tells the story of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a gang of one-time weavers and land workers, lead by David Hartley into the criminal enterprise of ‘clipping’ – the forging of coins, a treasonous offence punishable by death.
People have talk of a Robin Hood element to the story. But for me that is a bland, unsatisfactory description. David Hartley is not a simple, moral character. He is vivid, charismatic, outrageous. He loves his people and will work on any side of the law for them, some of it in furtherance of his own gritty majesty. But enemies beware: It is not a story of good and evil, it is a story of for or against. Hartley provides for the poor because they are his. He is ebullient, gregarious, frightening, I imagine, something of a pain in the arse. But he is one of the most enjoyable characters I have read for a long time. And the land he lives in comes alive, the story he has left for us is beautifully told.
The interplay of what drives Hartley, and what conspires to halt him is wonderful. It seems to ask a question about who controls wealth and how that arms them with power. And whether resistance to that power will ever be truly possible. There is a great sadness, drifting across the brow of the hills, through the edges of the woodlands, the knowledge deep in the hearts of the men and women battling to survive, that however cunning, courageous or outrageous they may be, this is a way of life destined to change. It is not only the upholders of the law that come after Hartley and his gang, but the grinding wheels of progress too.
The Gallows Pole reads like the roar of their outrage. A fantastic read.