Prolific, popular Cookson at her best (leagues above the relentless winsomeness of the Mary Ann series)--with wall-bending family fracases in the gritty idiom of working-class Newcastle, a story that sweeps on like wildfire gossip. This is the Depression odyssey of Abel, trapped in a loveless marriage with one of Cookson's vintage viragos: savage Lena, who is not only indirectly responsible for the death of the woman Abel really loved (gentle Alice) but has also rendered their son Dick partially deaf by fetching blows on his seven-year-old head. Abel finally has had enough, and after Alice's funeral--when Dick sees his father cry for the first time--the two start the long journey north to find work in hard times and a new life. Along the way, decent yet virile Abel evades the dangerous clutches of a love-sick widow and a madwoman, and he and Dick finally find haven with Hilda, the soon-widowed platonic wife of an old codger. Abel compassionately marries widow Hilda (who is distressed by passion), but he is really in love with Hilda's sister, lusty but nice Florrie, who will bear his child. Then. . . the inevitable day of reckoning comes when Lena and the Past overtake Abel--the doughty bigamist is given a mild prison term--but later there's a divorce and Florrie is killed in an air raid, leaving Abel with maternal, wounded, ever-loving Hilda. A good man wrapped 'round by wicked, heart-of-gold, and just plain mixed-up women--and as in all the best of soaps, you'll find your resistance fatally lowered after a chapter or two. Cookson caviar.