The America Ground by Nathan Dylan Goodwin is based on a fascinating piece of local history, indeed Goodwin’s own family history, and made into a historical thriller. On April 28, 1827, a woman is murdered in her bed. Eliza Lovekin is the second to be killed, Amelia Odden is to be next. This is the story of Eliza, her daughter Harriet and a piece of ground in Hastings, East Sussex, which for a short period of time was claimed as a piece of the United States of America.
Forensic genealogist Morton Farrier is on the trail of his own adoption story, the identity of his birth father. But a visit to his adoptive father seeking answers sets him instead on the trail of a new mystery. The portrait of a woman from the 1800s: ‘Eliza Lovekin, Hastings, 1825’. Morton’s client is the proprietor of an antiques business who wants a potted family history of Eliza to add value to the painting before it goes up for sale at auction. Initially resenting time away from researching his own family, Morton is soon captivated by Eliza’s story. In the 1827 story strand, we follow Harriet Lovekin, teenage daughter of Eliza, as she longs to be treated as an adult. Unfortunately the day arrives when she is, and she doesn’t like it.
The build towards the climax is deftly handled, though the book starts slowly and I would have liked a more even balance between historical exposition and action in the first half. Originally I was unsure why we were following Harriet’s viewpoint rather than Eliza’s, but all becomes clear towards the end. The build towards the climax is deftly handled, though the book starts slowly and I would have liked a more even balance between historical exposition and action in the first half. Originally I was unsure why we were following Harriet’s viewpoint rather than Eliza’s, but all becomes clear towards the end. There is one point when, in order to maintain the secret as long as possible, the author goes back a couple of days; that jolted me out of the story.
I particularly liked Goodwin’s use of local dialect with a light touch: ‘a low fubsy moon’, ‘a-going’ and ‘a-hurting’. As a genealogist and local historian, he knows his East Sussex locations well. As the action moves around the county, I found myself wishing there was a map to refer to.
Morton Farrier is a great protagonist – thoughtful, brave but scared too, a bit of a geek who has a sharp edge – though as my father used to say about Jim Rockford, it’s dangerous being around him; everyone he knows gets threatened, murdered, attacked or abused. And Morton’s own adoption heritage story continues from book to book.
Read my reviews of the first three books in the series, Hiding the Past, The Lost Ancestor and The Orange Lilies.