A Just and Upright Man (the title is from the Book of Job) is the first in a series of five books set in the northeast of England.
It is 1763. James Blakiston, overseer of Lord Ravenshead’s estate and a newcomer to the Durham parish of Ryton, is determined to solve the mystery of old Reuben Cooper’s murder – but he has no idea how to go about it. As enclosure threatens to make the poor even poorer, Blakiston follows one misguided hunch after another. The only thing that he can really be certain of is his love for the beautiful and spirited Kate Greener – a love he is determined to resist, for Kate is the daughter of a penniless labourer and Blakiston has in any case not recovered from being thrown over by the woman he believed loved him.
A Just and Upright Man is a romance; it’s a crime story; but most of all it’s a picture of 18th century England not looked at (as is usual in historical romance) from the point of view of the wealthy and powerful but seen through the eyes of those at the bottom of the heap. Kate Greener, Tom Laws, Lizzie and Florrie–these people were as real and as human as Lord Ravenshead and the Earl of Wrekin and I hope I have brought them to life – the reviews suggest that I have. I’ve said a little more on this subject here.
Shortlisted by the Historical Novel Society
The Historical Novel Society shortlisted A Just and Upright Man for its 2015 Indie Award. Hundreds of historical novels went into the pot; A Just and Upright Man was one of the last nine. It didn’t win, but just getting that far was a huge achievement.
It won a bronze medal in the Wishing Well 2014 Awards!
Here are some reviews for A Just and Upright Man:
***** A Five Star Historical Novel Society Indie Review May 1, 2014
As overseer to Lord Ravenshead, James Blakiston is a busy man, but not too busy to take the time to solve the mystery of Reuben Cooper’s murder. A newcomer to the Durham parish of Ryton, Blakiston is met with a mixture of welcome and suspicion by the locals as he pursues his enquiry into the killing of the villager, and also goes about his job as overseer. Set against a background of the late 18th century threat of enclosure, and with numerous nice subplots running through it, A Just and Upright Man is a delightful read. An absolute gem, R.J Lynch’s tale put me in mind of Winston Graham’s Poldark, with its superb gamut of colourful characters, all of whom come alive on the page and capture your imagination. There are plenty of skeletons in cupboards here, as past actions catch up with many, including Blakiston, as he fights his attraction to the beautiful and spirited Kate Greener, a woman beneath his class but who he finds captivating.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, not only an extremely well-constructed mix of historical, crime and romance but a tale of real people and village life that one felt fully absorbed in. The historical fact was extremely well researched and seemed flawless. I cannot praise this book highly enough, it was a novel I did not want to end…so I am delighted to see that it is the first of a planned series – I will be rushing out to purchase the sequel when it is published. A truly superb novel and indie publishing at its very best.
***** A Five Star Review from Romance Reviews Magazine
A thoroughly enjoyable read!
It’s the North of England (1763) and the Enclosures Act has yet to be passed by Parliament (1773). Even so, small plots and common land are enclosed without application to Parliament, which occurred right through from the time of Charles II’s restoration. And this is where the author’s hero, James Blakiston, rides forth and affords insight to his position as overseer (land agent/steward). He is the very man who mediates in disputes and or negotiates terms between a landowner and his tenant cottagers, smallholders and farmers. Subsequently, Blakiston comes to know of the shady secrets of all the parishioners, the rector, and his lusty bible spouting curate.
As if Blakiston doesn’t have enough to contend with in his duties to his master, (his lordship), a rape and murder occurs in one of his lordship’s villages, which James must initially investigate as part of his working remit. But rumour abounds of hidden treasure spirited away, and what at first seems a simple case of murderous revenge, becomes a far more complicated puzzle to solve. Undaunted, Blakiston sets out to unravel the mystery of a man everyone despised: including the deceased’s own children. Such is no mean task for Blakiston hails from the lesser landed gentry, being that of a squire’s son. While subjected to sideways mistrusting glances from many, others benefit from his fair-minded policies. One young lady, below his rank, sees him for what he is, a lonely young man at heart. Little does Kate Greener know that Blakiston has a past he’s ashamed of, and although she stirs lust from within, he is what he has made of himself: A Just and Upright Man.
Blakiston treats Kate with respect, and while beating his heart into retreat, she too knows her place in the overall scheme of what is socially acceptable. But can social divide keep them apart, or can love overcome all obstacles set by society? J. R. Lynch has brought to life the country folk from up north, and that of the era in which they exist. This novel is on a par with Thomas Hardy’s meaty offerings of country life and the hardships of the less well off: those beholding to the super-rich of their day. The men who could make or break a family with one word: eviction. Although there’s a large cast of characters, the author introduces each with clarity through the eyes of Blakiston. A Just And Upright Man, is nothing short of a very enjoyable and worthwhile read. As this is Book 1 of a series, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to reading book 2.
**** A Four Star Kindle Book Review
Detection and Romance
**** A Four Star Review from Rebecca Clark
Great historical mystery!
I’m a big fan of historical fiction and this book doesn’t disappoint! I truly enjoyed reading it and the characters were intriguing.
I can’t quite give it five stars for a few of reasons. One, there were too many characters and too many towns to remember who went with what. A map and list of characters would have been great. Second, Blakiston’s mistakes were made obvious, so you knew right away when he missed something. I also found it slightly irritating that Blakiston kept saying he would “never” allow himself to do something, and his next line he is doing it. Either you have conviction in a belief or you don’t (or maybe some (inner) dialogue on what changed would be good).
All in all, a great read and I will be looking at the next book.
***** A Five Star Review from Richard Jackson
A Fine Novel of Historical Fiction
If you want to find out how ordinary people lived in Northern England in the 18th century you can try to find the appropriate history books or you can read this excellent novel of historical fiction which probably does a better job. “A Just and Honest Man’ is who-dunnit murder mystery but to say that is to sell it short, because there are multiple sub plots and a cast of interesting characters portrayed in a very believable way.
We find that there are three main classes in the farming community around the village of Ryton (an actual place in the county of Durham of the time). The principle protagonist, James Blakiston, is in the middle – beholden to his employer, a nobleman, but greatly superior to the common folk of the village. His social equal and best friend is the rector whose wife’s diary conveys her thoughts about the poverty and desperate lives of the common folk. She is the only character who apparently would be happy to see the situation change and would likely be an avid follower of contemporary Dutch philosopher Spinoza’s political theories if such were available to her.
Blakiston is commissioned by his master, Lord Ravenshead, to find out who murdered cottager Reuben Cooper and set fire to his home. But Blakiston has other work to do for the Earl and his detective skills are not well developed, so the elucidation of the mystery is long drawn out. Along the way many closets disclose their skeletons and all kinds of details about the rich cast of characters come out.
There is romance.
R.. J. Lynch is at his best when providing nuggets of historical interest – in this respect I am reminded of the “Master and Commander” series which is somewhat limited though by being concerned with the operation of a British war ship of the Napoleonic era. For example, there are several instance where recipes of the time are described, and we are told that “pudding” is much better cooked wrapped in muslin than in a sheep’s intestine.
We find out about woman’s underwear, or lack of it. The rector’s wife is shocked, but then fascinated to discover that one of her friends wears drawers under her skirts, and then sets out to sew a pair for herself.
As I was reading I wondered about the rendering of the villagers’ speech. I believe that were a modern English speaker to go back in time to this area they would have a hard time following much of what was said to them. There would a strong regional accent sprinkled with local dialect words. Somewhat akin to the Scots of Robert Burns. R. J. Lynch has chosen, wisely I think, not to attempt to reproduce the genuine article here, in the interests of reading clarity.
***** A Five Star Review from an anonymous Barnes & Noble reader
I enjoyed this book from the first page to the end
I enjoyed this book from the first page to the end and am looking forward to the next instalment. I am lucky
enough to know the area in which this story is based. But anyone with no knowledge of the North East of
England may struggle. Perhaps a map in the follow up would be helpful
**** A Four Star Review on Amazon UK from Karen E Proctor
Superbly written historical fiction with plenty of suspense and tension to keep you turning the page. I am not familiar with the period in history but had the distinct impression that it was an accurate portrayal of the times. Will be looking for more books from the author RJ Lynch.
**** A Four Star Review on Amazon UK from Kirstie
Intriguing and Educational
‘A Just and Upright Man’ educated me enchantingly about the culture and practices of the late 18th century, in words I could understand. I wasn’t sure that I grew to know all the characters fully, but it was certainly clear that many of them, including the protagonist had light and dark sides, which left me curious to read more.
I was fascinated by the difference between now and then in how people communicated. If Blakiston needed to ask someone a question, there were no telephones, Facebook or Twitter, and it was not always practical or possible to visit someone or somewhere to simply ask questions. Communications were face to face, by third party word of mouth or in writing, so that geography and transportation mattered, and a single communication became an event or the day’s activity. This, and the story being set against a backdrop of political tensions over change to come and the early challenges to class and gender inequalities, characterized the period very clearly for me.
I experienced the odd unexpected shift from a safe to shocking scene, but suspect that these leaps were carefully designed to depict the harshness of certain aspects of the culture. Dark fears also lurked towards the end of the story, with an 18th century curse threatening to reach its clingy fingers out into Blakiston’s future. This worries me still, but I shall have to wait…