Review of the reads – June 2022
Feeding the Nation – A Celebration of Lincolnshire Farming 1086-2022 by Peter Clery
At the heart of this new book is an endorsement of Lincolnshire as a potential driving force in the UK’s future food production. Its predominantly agricultural land, farming heritage and investment in skills and technology should offer a positive counterpoint to dispiriting predictions relating to food security. Already linked with the issue of climate change, this topic has been considered with increasing urgency as a result of the war in Ukraine.
Feeding the Nation provides an overview of farming in the county since the time of the Domesday Book in 1086. Illustrated with colour photographs and charts, it offers a brief, accessible history for the general reader; of the animals reared, the crops grown, prominent landowners, as well as the technology developed by companies such as Ruston & Hornsby and Marshalls of Gainsborough.
What is hindering local food production now, says Clery, is the use of public money for rewilding.
The work of Defra and the disproportionate influence, as the author sees it, of the RSPB come under fire. While Clery’s arguments for using this land for farming might cut against popular environmentalist trends of recent years, few could take issue with his additional, pressing call for more Government funding to be directed towards flood defences as soon as possible.
Of course, disastrous floods are part of a bigger picture that requires attention to every aspect of land management, globally. The climate debate cannot be skirted over. It is highly likely that extreme weather will continue to impact on harvests, as in India recently. These could quickly undermine the agricultural vision the author supports.
Clery argues for local sustainability in the face of pressing needs, including alternative fuels. It is encouraging to think that Lincolnshire might be well placed to ensure this country’s prosperity and food security. But will this be enough? Still more innovative solutions will be required for a rapidly changing world. This book confirms Lincolnshire has an important part to play.
Published by Guy’s Head Books, Price £10, available from the Lincolnshire Life shop, www.lincolnshirelife.co.uk
The Sandringham Mystery by Christina James
Author Christina James uses the Lincolnshire Fens as the backdrop to her DI Yates novels but rather than peaceful countryside we are shown ‘murk’ and ‘sinister gloom’. After a passport forging operation is uncovered at the property of wealthy businessman Kevan De Vries, he is called home from St Lucia where he is spending time with his terminally ill wife. As Yates and his team look further into De Vries’s business operations and the local history connected with Laurieston Hall, they uncover a sordid world of slavery.
James moves between a number of narrative threads. As Yates investigates multiple crimes at Laurieston, and a connected incident in Norfolk, his colleagues try to solve a 19th-century puzzle.
Rather than convoluting the story, the main themes are emphasised and parallels introduced. At the same time, James introduces an array of distinct characters – from the housekeeper Mrs Briggs and her gruff husband, to De Vries himself who is the only character in the story presented through the use of first-person. (By contrast the workforce at the local food packing plant are almost faceless, of one voice, but on purpose – as is later revealed.)
By emphasising Yates’s interest in history, James finds a means of elaborating on the past and paints in some of the history of the county, including its reliance on seasonal workers. There is a sub-plot involving Cecil Rhodes, which reflects current reassessments of Britain’s colonial past too. But James never strays far from the case at hand, and is able to ratchet up the tension and drive the action forward time and again.
This ‘whodunnit’ is interested not only in naming perpetrators, but also identifying victims, in a wider sense. Much of the story is concerned with restoring characters’ individuality, after they have been made to live under false names, or erased altogether. James also touches on everyday personal issues with sensitivity, showing how individuals on both sides of a criminal investigation can find themselves identifying with one another.
Published by Bloodhound Books, Price £8.99