Friday, May 24, 2019

Martine Bailey’s "The Almanack"

Martine Bailey’s third novel, The Almanack, is a historical mystery tale set in rural England in 1752, the year the calendar lost 11 days.

The philosophy of time, destiny and the stars pervade this intricate historical mystery in which a young woman determines to avenge her mother's death. Following a desperate summons from her mother, Tabitha Hart departs London for her home village of Netherlea - only to discover that Widow Hart has drowned. Determined to discover the truth, Tabitha consults her mother’s almanack and finds a series of cryptic notes describing her mother's terror of someone she names only as 'D'. Teaming up with young writer Nat Starling, Tabitha begins a race against time to unmask 'D' before more deaths follow. But as the summer draws to a close and the snow sets in, Tabitha and Nat are forced to face the darkest hours of their lives. Each chapter is prefaced by one of 50 historical riddles for the reader to solve – with answers at the back.

Bailey lives in Chester, England. Her first novel, An Appetite for Violets, was a Booklist Top Ten Crime Debut and her second, A Taste for Nightshade, was a Sunday Times Best Summer Read.

Here Bailey dreamcasts an adaptation of The Almanack:
My heroine Tabitha was a courtesan in London, and is sharp-witted, light-fingered and bold, a shrewd handler of people, and charming when she wants to be. To play her I had in mind Crystal Laity’s performance as harlot Margaret Vosper in Poldark, a mix of intelligence and physical allure.

Tabitha’s love interest is rakeish poet Nat Starling, a Cambridge University drop-out, obsessed with time. His creativity mixes with bouts of stupidity and drunkenness. No apologies for casting Aidan Turner (Ross Poldark) as the intense, long-haired writer.

Joshua Saxton is Tabitha’s devoted old flame, now a widower and the dogged village constable. Rugged Alex O’Loughlin would be ideal (convict Will Bryant in mini-series Mary Bryant).

Joshua’s daughter Jennet leads the younger generation: still girlish at 15, her pursuit of romance and superstition leads her into danger. I’d love a young Christina Ricci, circa Sleepy Hollow to play her.

Youngest of all is Bess Hart, the infant left in the care of murdered Widow Hart. Precocious and beautiful at 3-years old, some claim she has second sight. I picture little Sally Jane Bruce who played Pearl in the 1955 classic, The Night of the Hunter.

The book is located in Chester, a 2,000 year old walled city in England famed for its distinctive black and white high-gabled buildings. Tabitha’s home village of Netherlea is scattered around a manor house, where country customs are celebrated, from a blood-stained harvest through autumn bonfires and a snowbound Christmas.

I would love to see a director capture the mix of fairy story meets murder mystery, so someone with the unique talent of The Night of the Hunter’s Charles Laughton springs to mind. I’ll never forget the magical escape of the children along the benighted river with a soundtrack of Pearl’s eerily sung lullaby.

I’m sure Laughton would more than do justice to the stars and moon reflected in the watermeadows, the snowbound castle, and flickering candlelight as Tabitha and Nat study the almanack for the next riddle and revelation.
Visit Martine Bailey's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: An Appetite for Violets.

My Book, The Movie: A Taste for Nightshade.

--Marshal Zeringue