A young hedonist falls under a false murder charge in 1776.
On a cold evening in the British city of Airenchester, Thaddeus Grainger attends a lavish ball at the town home of Lady Stepney. Despite the music and lively talk, he leaves early, more interested in drink and women than idle flirting. It takes him days to learn the name of the beautiful girl he spots in a public house: Cassie Redruth. Still, he dutifully fulfills his many local obligations, including those to the family of Miranda Pears, whom many observers believe he is destined to wed. Airenchester is densely populated with faux Dickensian characters: Grainger's best friend, the free-thinking William Quillby; Cassie's ex-grenadier father, Silas; and Mr. Trounce, a starchy barrister. When Grainger's self-appointed rival, righteous Piers Massingham, makes the mistake of manhandling Cassie, harsh speeches soon escalate into fighting words. At the duel that ensues, Massingham stabs Grainger in the thigh after the latter loses his footing. The strike is not serious, but still more angry words follow. And when a watchman finds Massingham murdered later that day, the news spreads with lightning speed. There seems little public doubt that rakish Grainger is guilty. Once he's taken to dingy Bellstrom Gaol, Cassie seems carried away with her newfound celebrity, leaving Quillby to embark on an uphill quest for justice.
New Zealander Baltakmens (The Battleship Regal, 1996) captures the flavor and scope of classic British fiction. Adventure overshadows mystery in his colorful yarn.