David Chadwick  

A thriller questioning allegiance and identity - without forgetting to add the thrills

The Book Bag

Alabama House - the building once nicknamed 'the Confederate Embassy' in Rumford Place, Liverpool.

As this plaque demonstrates, modern-day Liverpool is never too far away from its Confederate links

Liberty Bazaar by David Chadwick

reviewed by Ani Johnson

Confederate General Jubal de Brooke is sent to Britain as an envoy to raise awareness and funds from the English aristocracy for his southern brothers in arms in the American Civil War. Meanwhile slave Trinity escapes to England and immediately becomes an icon for the liberal elite. However soon Trinity realises there's more to the English support than just talk. She uncovers a secret – and highly illegal – plot with far reaching effects for her homeland, not to mention dangerous consequences for her.

David Chadwick is a journalist, born and raised in the northwest of England with a passion for maritime history. Here all these facets combine to create a novel that highlights something we Brits aren't taught in school: our nation's part in the US Civil War.

Jubal and Trinity are clearly puppets for their respective sponsors who expect their pound of flesh as well as expecting reactions from the pair that fit in with their respective views. Have they got a surprise coming!

Jubal joins a planned British talking tour reluctantly, not wanting to be an unthinking advertisement for the South. Indeed he has issued an embarrassing treatise denouncing aspects that the confederacy holds dear. However the fact he has an illness (what we would recognise as post-traumatic stress) means he needs a break from the conflict and the idea that he can raise money to help confederate POWs and their families swings it for him. What he doesn't realise is that his British sojourn is to be no rest cure.

Trinity's route to England is more accidental; the result of a series of adventures during her escape from a Georgia plantation. She's barely set foot on land before she's recruited to the side of the abolitionists. On being given a platform to speak against the evils of her past experience, Trinity similarly acquiesces.

On the surface this is a fast moving, historically-based thriller while beneath there are themes for consideration. Identity and allegiance are never far from the surface as our heroes individually question who they can trust. The threat of betrayal colours the story until we too are paranoidishly questioning each act of kindness in case the cost is higher than it seems.

We also witness – and wince – at the human gift of hypocrisy. Trinity's mentor Lady Featherfax is keen to side with the slaves while subscribing to a lifestyle that lays uncrossable barriers between server and served.

The whole book is interesting, but it's especially fascinating to witness the many reasons why the English picked sides during the conflict. The urge for financial security being as big a draw as wanting to fight a perceived overbearing authority.

There is definitely much packed into this story to please both thinker and those only demanding entertainment. One or two moments may be predictable but then that blind-sides us into erroneous smugness which is shattered at each subsequent surprise. That's the beauty of this novel and that's what makes David Chadwick one to watch as well as one to enjoy.