The scrappy, loudmouthed lasses and lads--with a diction like dueling Brillo pads--of Cookson's early Tyneside scullery romances have wilted here into a boring middle-class lot. In this long. winded tale of family messes set in a late-19th-century English village, there are a by-blow, a concealed crime, violent deaths, marital miseries, etc.--and characters who don't whomp up much sympathy for their plights. Bridget Mourdant--who is running her deceased pa's boot-polish factory with ease--is attracted to worker Joe Skinner; but Joe has already married pregnant Lily to save her from disgrace. Poor Lily had been cast off by her seducer, wealthy and horrid Lionel Filmore--and, later in the story, Joe's brother Fred will find out, blackmail Lionel, and be murdered. And guess who'll be hanged for the crime? Next, move on to 1896 and a new generation--with Joseph, son of Lily and Lionel, who knows not his origins. He'll marry Amy, daughter of Bridget and Douglas, the nice but small brother of Lionel, the bad and big. So then on to the matter of Joseph's family research; two illicit affairs; and deaths all around, plus an attack by Henrietta, a huge deaf mute. Clanking with dialogue like ""You are my son but you are rotten to the core,"" it is all, on the whole, rather a chore. Cookson's early potboilers--with their flavor of authenticity deep in life-among-the-lowly by the Tyne--were great fun. But this is merely tiresome.