THE QUALITY OF MERCY, by Barry Unsworth

Most of Unsworth’s tales are dark, with characters I’ve found to be less than sympathetic, but The Quality of Mercy, set in England in 1767, it involves a slave-ship owner bent on revenge, a coal mine owner bent on pleasure, a fugitive Irish fiddler, two slavery abolitionists (one male, one female, and why is he surprised she has a mind of her own?) with varied agendas, and a small mining village near Durham. Unsworth, a Booker Prize winner, is unsurpassed at the casually chilling detail, the seemingly disparate threads of an intricate plot, and bringing major issues down to understandable, though not always likeable, size. The same is true of his characters, some of which are so flawed they could be used as psychiatric teaching devices. This is a 5, the perfect rainy weekend read from a writer known for his meticulously-researched and -written historical novels. The book could be considered a sdequel to A Sacred Hunger, written twenty years before.