Robert Edric is a good example of a productive mid-list author who, perhaps unusually, continues to be published despite what can only be modest sales and limited reviews. Save for his three Hull-based crime novels, he is also unusual in that all of his novels seem to be utterly different to each other. His The Kingdom of the Ashes (Doubleday), for example, is set in Allied-occupied post-war Germany where a British officer tries to make sense of those in his charge while Gathering the Water (Black Swan) concerns a washed-up nineteenth century engineer supervising the flooding of a valley on behalf of an un-named Water Board.
Charles Weightman is never sure of his role, knowing only that those whose land is to be flooded resent him. Indeed, he is known as “flooder”. The Board is making money out of the dam, giving little compensation to locals for houses that anyway have little value other than that was their home. Few will speak to Weightman save for an older woman, Mary, recently returned to the area with her mad sister Martha, who we learn will shortly be returned to an asylum. Mary is the only person who sees that “Mr Weightman” as she always calls him, carries his own burden – the recent death of his fiancee – and has no responsibility for what is happening to the land. As the water rises steadily, so does the tension and people leave as refugees in their own country knowing they have been defeated by the Board. What will happen to Mary once her sister goes back to the asylum?
Gathering the Water is – as I’ve indicated – a sombre book. It is a short book, easily read in an evening, which, with only a rare intrusion of an inappropriately modern-sounding word, carries the feel of mid-nineteenth century industrialisation clashing with its victims, including Weightman himself.