A page-turning genealogy crime mystery

Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s ‘The America Ground’ is a satisfying genealogical puzzle, that I enjoyed untangling as I turned each page.


I’m a fair-weather reader. Slow, and driven by the habit of only reading in bed just before I doze off. Some years I will read as little as 1 or 2 books, others will see that closer to 6 a year. Still not a great number, but the time that I’d spend reading, I could spend researching my family tree.

So when author Nathan Dylan Goodwin asked me if he could send me a copy of his book ‘The America Ground‘ – a book about a genealogy puzzle – I agreed, warning him of my tardiness.

The book is the third adventure for Nathan’s ‘Forensic Genealogist’ character, Morton Farrier. I’ve not read the others, but I didn’t feel like this book relied on prior knowledge of him, or his earlier adventures.

Morton’s character is a professional family history researcher, and we find him enjoying the chance to research his own unclear ancestry, with him trying to locate his biological parents’ movements in 1970’s Sussex, England. This is soon interrupted by a painting and a mystery related to the Lovekin family that takes him back to the early 19th century and land disputes over a strip of land known as ‘The America Ground’.

This piece of land, which really does exist, anchors the historical characters, and Nathan writes a truly grimy and poverty-stricken existence for them as they cling to their livelihoods. The menace of the sea is as much of a menace as the authorities are in this story, and I could almost hear the unforgiving waves crashing as I read this at night.

I found the chapters alternating between modern and historical, not a new invention, but a welcome one that really helped to lure me through this story, as I too became tangled in the mysterious branches of the Lovekin tree, and Morton’s own mystery.

There’s plenty of familiar nods here for family historians – alongside the social history depictions there’s plenty of revelation BMD certificates, legal inheritance hurdles, puzzling parish register appearances, and an abrasive archives keeper in the form of Miss. Deidre Latimer (we’ve all known one).

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There’s also plenty here for crime fans too, although as the historical and modern mystery boundaries began to blur towards the finale, I found the series of events that occur to Morton became a little bit too dramatic. The clever drawing together between the modern and historical characters to form the resolve really tied those time-scattered stories together perfectly.

The last few lines of the book deliver a completely unexpected cliff-hanger, which must surely be the opening point for the next book in the Morton Farrier series, and the next era for his own puzzling ancestry.

Author: Andrew Martin

+Andrew Martin is owner and lead writer for History Repeating and Family Tree UK. Genealogist, historian, writer, photographer and would-be archaeologist. He'd love a time machine, but worries that it might take all the fun out of it.

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