Milltown, by Jimmy Higgins

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley to review, on behalf of the publishers. I have no idea when it will be published, as it seems to have disappeared from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The book links in this review go to Amazon.co.uk, because it’s barely listed on GoodReads.

17910936Jimmy Higgins’ Milltown is an incredible book (and I hope it gets published on this side of the Atlantic soon). Set between 1914 and 1919 in a small town north of Glasgow, Scotland, several stories weave in and out of each other. It’s almost cinematic (or mini-series-esque) the way the battles of Aggie McMillan and Archie Ferguson, the loves and trials of Jeanie Broon and Micky McGoldrick, and the horrors of World War I bring Milltown to life. Though I know some people won’t like it, this book is written primarily in Glaswegian. Some chapters are pure dialog. I enjoyed this touch because not only could I see Milltown, I could hear it. My mental narrator morphed into Billy Connolly. (Listen to a young Connolly when he had a stronger accent here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDLIuDtlY74. Be warned there’s a lot of language in this clip. But if you can’t understand his accent, you’ll miss the cuss words.)

The book opens with a series of establishing scenes, introducing us not only to the main players in the story but also other men and women who give the impression that they’re the lead characters in their own novels somewhere. We meet the violent but charming Archie Ferguson and town gossip, Aggie. Meanwhile, Jeanie is dumped by her boyfriend before he can dump her because he’s not inclined towards women–a dangerous admission in 1914. As the war in Europe heats up and men start to rush to enlist, a mean-spirited rumor about Jeanie’s boyfriend, Henry, fancying Archie leads to Archie hanging Henry from a tree after breaking his neck. Aggie suspects that Archie is involved, but everyone is more than content to dismiss the outed Henry as a suicide.

Higgins switches back and forth between Milltown and the women left behind and the French front to which Archie and his accomplice flee. Archie manages to get the British Army to protect him. After all, who would listen to a known gossip persecuting a brave man fighting at the Front? Barring accidents and bad luck, Archie is vicious enough to survive three years of trench warfare. Believe it or not, Higgins manages to crank up an already tense story a few notches. Before he left for France, Archie left a knife on Aggie’s pillow with a threat and then burned her house down. You just know he’s going to come back for a final showdown with her.

Meanwhile, Jeanie and Micky are facing hardships organized by a self-appointed committee of women who shame men who’ve chosen not to enlist. The opposition keeps them together long enough for Jeanie to get in the family way and for Micky to be arrested for resisting the draft when it rolls around. (At the time, conscientious objection was a prison-worthy offense.) It’s a heartbreaking story, complicated by the fact that Jeanie falls for someone else while Micky is prison.

I liked the book and enjoyed reading it. But when I hit the amazing ending, I fell in love with this book. I really hope that other Americans get to read it.

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