Strike for a Kingdom

Menna Gallie

Honno 2003 [1959]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2011
Set in an invented mining village in South Wales during the Strike of 1926, Strike for a Kingdom is on the surface a murder mystery. On the morning of a carnival day in August the much loathed mine manager is found dead in the river, having been knocked on the head, and the body of a stillborn child is found buried nearby.

With no sympathy for the miners or understanding of their lives, Inspector Evans seems to have little chance of discovering the murderer. Much better placed here is the central character, DJ Williams, who is a striking miner as well as a justice of the peace, a local magistrate, and a poet.

The mystery elements, however, are not what drives the plot: the mystery is not terribly mysterious and the sleuthing is only a small part of the story, which also includes a protest march on a mine-owner's house and the progression of the ordinary rituals of the fair. Strike for a Kingdom is a portrait of a marginal community under stress and of the struggles of individuals in difficult circumstances.

It is written in the third person, with a perspective that shifts between characters and occasionally takes a step back with overt historical commentary by the author. ("The Miners' Strike in 1926 lasted from May to December. Then the cold beat them.")

The characters are strikingly individual even when they are only cameo sketches: the policemen who are torn between the demands of their job and their identification with their fellow villagers, Jess, the manager's "bit on the side", and her husband, DJ Williams' quietly reliable mother, the mine-manager's out-of-place upper-middle-class wife, and a young girl whose concerns don't rise above her fair costume, among others.

Strike for a Kingdom is an easy, enjoyable read, though it does feel a little lightweight and could profitably have been fleshed out into a more substantial work.

June 2011

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%T Strike for a Kingdom
%A Gallie, Menna
%I Honno
%D 2003 [1959]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781906784201
%P 160pp