Still perhaps best known as a broadcaster and former rugby player, Eddie Butler is gradually acquiring a cult following as a novelist. His first two novels, The Head of Gonzo Davies and its sequel Gonzo Davies, Caught in Possession, were rugby-based and described by one reviewer as 'not for the timorous'. In The Asparagus Thieves, Butler moves away from the rugby world but maintains that gritty edge.
The novel consists of two interwoven narratives whose connection becomes apparent only towards the end. One timeline, which begins just before the First World War, focuses on the upstairs/downstairs families of Tallis Hall, the Pembrokeshire country estate of factory-owner Sir Gordon Tallis-Brown and his wife Lady Phyllis, otherwise known as Lady Fierce, and for good reason. They have just one son and heir, Gentle John. Their below-stairs counterparts are Dafydd and Megan Jones and their three sons, Gideon, Gabriel and Daniel. When both Dafydd and Sir Gordon die, Gentle John and Gideon (otherwise known as Now Then) work together to design and build a beautiful walled garden that goes on to feature in both of the twin narratives, and which is where the eponymous asparagus grows.
In telling the story of these two families, Butler shows his gentler side. There is the predominantly rural/pastoral setting, and the relationships among the young men, crossing the class divide, are warm and caring. In 1918, when the world was such a bleak place, Gabriel and Daniel start planting up the walled garden following Now Then and John's plans. They are honouring the past, and planting for the future.
The other timeline is bang up to date, with mention even of Brexit. Here we enter a harsher, crueller world, softened only by the presence of Dan Post Jones, a gentle boffin, and the love of his life, the lovely if slightly wild Corinthia. Ever in search of new experiences, Corinthia finds herself working in a seedy joint at the rougher end of Magaluf. Seedy soon becomes sordid when the bar is taken over by the amoral Ian and Donna and their ghastly sidekick, Mankev, none of whom have any qualms about calling in the heavies to do their dirty work. And some very dirty work is done. There is theft, violence, abuse, bribery, corruption and murder, and caught up somewhere in the middle of it all is the lovely Corinthia. Will Dan Post Jones come to the rescue in time? And even if he does, how is this weedy weakling going to deal with the likes of the Namelesses, Ian and Donna's hired hoods?
Intertwined dual narratives, often set in different periods, have become increasingly popular and are almost a genre in their own right. Often, one story will come across more strongly than the other. In The Asparagus Thieves, Butler has created two strong storylines with very different tones. There is a dark side, and there is a lighter side. Butler is spreading his wings again.
Suzy Ceulan Hughes @ www.gwales.com