It is 1849 in San Francisco – the height of the gold rush – and desperate men from all over the world are swarming California in search of gold and riches. Many of these men are Australian convicts who take advantage of this new, lawless world – and they call themselves The Coves.
Enter Samuel Bellamy. At just 12 years old, innocent and recently estranged from his mother, he joins The Coves in the hope that they will be able to reunite him with her. Instead, he finds himself thrust into an environment rife with violence and misconduct – pub brawls, street fights, prostitution – and forced to grow up a lot more quickly than he ever anticipated.
The Coves by David Whish-Wilson is a stunning historical fiction novel about survival and greed, and the inherent human pursuit of wealth. Above all else, though, this is a story about a young man’s journey from boyhood to manhood, and the challenges we face in our adolescence that shape who we become later on in life.
This novel is rich in historical detail, with Whish-Wilson providing a wealth of information and backstory to support the narrative. For readers who love their historical fiction The Coves is a true gem, providing a vivid and visceral glimpse into a time-period characterised by extreme change and cultural tension.
Although historically dense, it’s incredibly easy to follow and understand. Narrated from the perspective of Samuel, the story reads with a child-like innocence that gradually sheds as Samuel learns to hold his own and find his inner strength. It’s a delight to read a book where the character voice shifts and there is a certain satisfaction in seeing this change in perspective as he gradually matures.
David Whish-Wilson effortlessly combines factual history with a cracking good story to create a layered and emotionally-fuelled read. He has a particular talent for authentic dialogue that captures the essence and attitudes of the era in fascinating detail.
The Coves turns a little-known chapter of Australian history into a thrilling getaway and if you enjoy the adventure of travelling to other times and places without ever having to leave the comfort of your own couch, then we couldn’t recommend it more highly.
About the author:
David Whish-Wilson is well known as the writer of three richly imagined, superbly crafted crime novels that delve into the seedier threads of Perth’s past: Old Scores, Line of Sight and Zero at the Bone. He has been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award and WA Premier’s Book Award, and in 2014 won the Patricia Hackett Prize for best contribution to Westerly Magazine. Born in Newcastle, NSW, David grew up in Singapore, Victoria and WA. He left Australia aged eighteen to live for a decade in Europe, Africa and Asia, where he worked as a barman, actor, street seller, petty criminal, labourer, exterminator, factory worker, gardener, clerk, travel agent, teacher and drug-trial guinea pig. He now lives in Fremantle and coordinates the creative writing program at Curtin University.