A Lark Ascending by John B. Campbell
Following up his 2012 debut, John B. Campbell sets his sights on Whitechapel in A Lark Ascending to tell the story of Malcolm Roberts, a young EastEnder whose curiosity leads him into the middle of a treacherous mystery.
It’s the 1920s and racial tensions are high across London as Chinese locals continue to face prejudice and even danger. When Malclom stumbles across a plot by local radicals to eradicate the Chinese population of Limehouse, his simple life in the East End becomes the target of sinister shadows lingering at every corner. After a devastating murder hits close to home, Malclom must join forces with his friend Sid, a young woman named Katja, and a street urchin named Jun to solve a mystery and unravel a vicious plot.
In A Lark Ascending John Campbell builds on his talent for cultivating the vivid atmosphere of an historical setting. The East End becomes at once familiar and brand new to readers as we witness its complexity and grit through the eyes of a young local. Malcolm adds particular depth to the story as he wrestles with the evolving society around him and his own journey into adulthood. At fourteen, he has both the adventuresome whimsy of boyhood and a grown-up awareness of ethics, social issues, and impending change. Campbell does a superb job of fleshing out the emotional intricacy of a young man’s coming-of-age as a component in an even larger story – one involving murder, familial complexity, and social progress.
The novel covers much ground in its story, and the reader is introduced to many fascinating, sometimes suspicious characters across the pages. Campbell balances the intricacies of his story with a pacing that combines fast-moving scenes with slower moments of observation and reflection. The result is a worthy follow-up to his first novel, Walk to Paradise Garden, which diverged across North America, Europe, and Africa through the better part of a century. In A Lark Ascending, Campbell shows that he can center a gripping story in one colorful city with as much verve and skill as he can spin a global saga.