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Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite
Chris Winterton’s Folk takes place in the Australian town of Fareham during the early 20th century. In the respectable part of town, the mayor and his supporters are pushing for “temperance,” or alcohol prohibition. In the not-so-respectable area, there is a rising tide of crime and violence, spearheaded by a loosely organized gang of juvenile delinquents known as the Folk Devils. And to add fuel to the fire, a carnival-circus comes to town headed by the glib-tongued but shady Harry Bailey, who has his own under-the-table sideline. In the center of everything is Milton O’Farrell, a working-class lad who is torn between his days working in his father’s humdrum tailor shop and his nights playing in the carnival’s band, surrounded by the glamorous carnival life. On top of it all, Milton begins to ask questions about his deceased mother — about whom his father will reveal nothing. Put these elements all together, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster!
Chris Winterton must be quite a history buff, since he knows so much about the Australian milieu of that long-ago era. His depictions ring true, such as his accounts of the town’s rigid class structure and his re-creation of the different accents used by the upper and lower classes. Winterton’s characters are complex, not just black and white. Even carnival operator Bailey, who doesn’t think twice about fleecing the townspeople, has a moral code – he “takes care of his own” retinue of performers and hangers-on. Winterton also uses the clever device of a flashback sub-plot, showing how Milton’s father Edward first came to the town and how he became a tailor. All in all, Folk is one of the best books I’ve reviewed for this site.