Book Review: ‘The Prospect of This City’
I first met author Eamon Griffin when I began a Novel Writing course at Grimsby College. Eamon was the creative writing tutor there. What followed was an extremely enjoyable course at the end of which we all decided to continue our regular meetings in what became a small and informal writer’s group, our meetings held at The Wheatsheaf pub on Grimsby’s Bargate. During our association I was always impressed by Eamon’s powers of observation, his ability to ‘think outside the box’ and to quickly unravel prose related problems with such ease and clarity that one was left thinking ‘why the hell didn’t I think of that?’ I was thrilled, therefore, when I discovered last year that he’d published his first novel – more so once I realised that I’d seen the germ of his inspiration grow from what had been a shocking yet tragically topical event.
Terror in London
Eamon was in London on the 7th of July, 2005, the day when 52 innocent civilians were killed in a series of coordinated terror attacks. The event, inevitably labelled ‘The 7/7 Bombings’ (as though use of a cute handle somehow gives credence to evil) shocked the nation. It also had a significant impact on Eamon. However, with a writer’s insight he saw in it the basis of a plot of a different kind. One from which he could produce a story. That story, it seems, has become ‘The Prospect of this City’.
I have just completed his book and, whilst I am no book reviewer, feel I’d like to share some of those things that have made this such a memorable read for me. The tale, spun around those events leading to the Great Fire of London of 1666, paints a vivid picture of an over-populated, squalid city in which dirt and depravity are evident in every street. The cause of the fire has been speculated upon for centuries. Here Eamon uses the 2005 terrorist attack on London as the spark for a seventeenth century historical thriller, set at a time of political unrest and a bitter war between Britain and The Netherlands.
Such was the precision of Eamon’s writing that I would frequently become entranced by his accurate though concise word-use. So much so that, on putting the book down, I often felt the need to have a good wash. I’ll share one or two such passages here:
She was swathed in a once-black headscarf and a faded yellow coat that looked stolen from a battlefield. The only thing clean about her was the creaminess of the clay pipe clamped in her over-biting jaw. Grey smoke clung to her as though embarrassed for the wretchedness of her appearance.
Look at him, gouging between teeth, affecting boredom and impatience, the coddled warmth of fear rising off him like steam from a fresh horse turd.
Throughout the story Eamon does well to portray the heat of that fateful summer, during which long sunny days had served to dry out thatch, timber and a multitude of other combustibles, preparing them for the ensuing conflagration. In this example Eamon combines the environmental and social conditions in one brief, precisely worded sentence:
It was in the heat that clung to your neck as though you had a lecherous drunk whispering clammy indignity from behind.
I could go on. There are so many fine examples, wonderfully descriptive yet concise and accurate so as not to hinder the story’s flow. Throughout the whole book the writing also demonstrates his meticulous research.
Eamon was no doubt drafting his novel when I met him at one of the ‘Festival of History’ events then run by English Heritage at Northamptonshire’s Kelmarsh Hall. The weekend event which celebrated all aspects of English history through the ages, with first class and exciting battle re-enactments from the era of Roman occupation through to the allied invasion of Normandy, was an ideal opportunity for keen historians to see history come to life before their eyes.
In addition to the set-piece battles was a large, well stocked market place in which you could buy anything from Viking beads through to replica fire-arms. Whilst there Eamon purchased a typical seventeenth century replica pistol as part of his research. He wished to know how such a pistol felt in the hand; the weight of its barrel, the smoothness of its stock. He wanted to get a sense of how it felt in the pocket. Such was his attention to detail, and it is evident in his novel.
For those of you who enjoy a tightly plotted tale, finely crafted writing and carefully drawn characters, I can confidently recommend Eamon’s book. In ‘The Prospect of This City’, he has provided all these things and more.
If you wish to read more of Eamon’s work here’s his web address: