The Blackwater by Paul Smith

‘As time melted into the mist, I sensed a stillness.’

In the present, DCI William Constable is deeply depressed. His life, as he sees it, is full of failures. His marriage has failed and the international drug ring he is investigating keeps missing its targets. William Constable is contemplating death:

‘Entombed by the slavery of my depression, a cloud of loneliness enveloped me as I waited to die. Gripped by a choking sadness, I knew what I must do.’

A chance vision stops him from taking his life, but he is reassigned to community policing in his hometown of Maldon in Essex, UK.

In the past, over a thousand years earlier, the Vikings invade the Blackwater Estuary with the town of Maldon as their goal. Wilhelm is one of the men called on to defend the town as they wait for the king and his army to arrive. The fighting is brutal.

‘A picture of pain assaulted his vision, and before the image had time to disappear, it became etched into his memory, so that even after the fleeting glance had passed, Wilhelm continued to see it.’

In the present, as part of a murder investigation he becomes entangled in, William finds some clues to the drug case he had been investigating. He is determined to find the truth and places himself at risk as he investigates.

In the past, Wilhelm tries to save the woman he loves from the invaders.

‘Transcending time, I found myself transported from the present into the past.’

I had very mixed feelings about this novel. While I found the focus on William’s mental health interesting, the writing frequently jerked me out of the story. I itched to edit, to tighten up the language and remove some of the verbiage, to move beyond William’s thoughts into his actions. And while Wilhelm’s story has me interested in the Battle of Maldon (about which little is known), I found it difficult moving between past and present.

‘I was walking into a trap from which there could be no escape, a fight I could never hope to win.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Matador for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith