Language of Thieves
by Elizabeth Jackson
Published by Robert Hale, London.
'Language of Thieves' is a novel set largely in Cumbria at the end of the 1940s. It follows the story of young Daisy Latimer, a spirited Travelling girl. Her widower father Samboy does his best to protect Daisy from the two men who love her, local squire Tobias Flint, and bad boy Gypsy Roulson Adams. The main action takes place around Appleby, during and after the fair.
Elizabeth Jackson has a gift for conjuring up very English places, whether it's the country manors and villages we're used to hearing about, or the horse fairs that we're not. 'Language of Thieves' is a vivid, sweeping novel, a fine book for the fireside when the winter wind is up outside.
Jackson transports you from the politics of the present to a rural past that many of us can't help longing for, whether we're Travellers or not. You can really breathe in the atmosphere, from the straw Samboy sleeps on under his wagon to the hops and 'baccer of the old pubs when they still served proper beer.
The characters are largely wholesome and likable, but there are a few bad apples: especially the young, wild and dark-eyed Gypsy Roylson. When Daisy's heart is stolen by the dashing by the dashing landowner Tobias, Roulson goes off the rails in his quest for revenge against the rich Gorjia who stole the best looking girl at the fair.
Meanwhile, Samboy rediscovers his youth when he falls for the lovely Lavinia, a warm-hearted Gypsy lady who married Sam's best pal before he died in an accident, so love is definitely in the air.
The trouble is I ended up cheering for Roulson, in spite of his unhinged ways and love of the demon drink. The dear chavvy has to watch yet another wealthy, interfering rai-mush chore the kushty dikkin' rakli he loves. Of course, like everyone's all-time Romany villain, Heathcliff, he's not too happy about it, but you'll have to read the book to find out what happens.
'Language of Thieves' is a rustic roller-coaster tale with scary scenes and a few steamy ones as well so this one's for the grown-ups. It's definitely worth a read.
Damian Le Bas