Like any number of Liverpudlian writers and artists, film critic Anthony Quinn is hard-wired to the history of his home town. In this ambitious first novel, he resurrects Liverpool's port-of-empire past from the rubble of the Blitz.
The novel's hero, Thomas Baines, is a bookish type working on a Pevsner-style survey of Liverpool's architectural heritage. With the outbreak of war he signs up as a "Rescue Man", charged with pulling suvivors from the wreckage. War also tears down other certainities, and the once buttoned-up Baines finds himself slipping into an adulterous affair with his colleague's wife, the bohemian Bella Tanqueray. Interwoven with Baines's story is that of a long-forgotten Victorian architect, Peter Eames. Quinn relates the chequered history of a maverick visionary who once sought to re-shape Liverpool's skyline. Dual narratives can make for uneven reading, and despite the suggested parallels between Baines and Eames's lives, the wartime drama proves the more compelling. What the reader wants to know is if Baines will emerge unscathed from his home-front romance.
In a novel of cinematic denouements, Quinn has reclaimed an intriguing chapter of Liverpool's past. Postwar, Baines devotes himself to saving what he can of his city from the hands of a new wave of city planners. Hidden under bomb damage is Eames's final unfinished project, a grand public library. Baines might be too late to salvage his own past, but knows that some legacies are too precious to be left behind.