These days William Thompson, better known as Bendigo, is one of Nottingham's underappreciated sons. Alan Dance and David Field have sought to correct that with their historical novel: Bendigo, The Right Fist of God. They have used fiction and their undoubted story telling skills to build on a sound but limited historical base to produce an engaging novel. It brings the person of Bendigo to life despite the need to use the fiction writer's skills to fill in the biographical and historical gaps.
In the Foreword the authors are honest in describing the limits of the history and where they have had to invent characters and story lines to round out their story. The events are based on contemporary reports even though they were not always accurate as prize-fighting was illegal and newspapers would often choose to be somewhat economical with the truth to protect their access to people and the events. However as the authors make clear, the love interest is fiction but plausible.
Both Alan Dance and David Field have produced, individually and in collaboration, historical novels set mostly in 19th century Nottingham. They are historians first, story tellers second, so take great care with the history and pride themselves on the accuracy of the events they use to under pin their stories. Their enthusiasm for the history of Nottingham shines through in all their stories.
However they are excellent story tellers and The Right Fist of God continues to build their reputations. It is a straightforward, but engaging, biographical novel that chronicles the life of the 19th century prize fighter William Thompson, Bendigo as he was known, from cradle to grave. It gives equal coverage to his later years as an evangelist which is probably less well known than his prize fighting exploits. The Right Fist of God thereby gives a much more rounded view of the man than most, myself included, were probably aware. Like most, even though born and bred in Nottingham, I only knew of Bendigo as a champion prize fighter, albeit the best of his era, but knew nothing of his religious work. So I was grateful to find out more and I have also been privileged to discuss the real history of William Thompson with Alan Dance in his role as an historian. He and David Field have worked hard to stay close to the real story even if they have had to add fictional colour to produce a fascinating novel.
The book is not just for lovers of historical fiction as it is solidly based on the history of prize fighting and the colourful, larger than life, characters it attracted — much like modern boxing. So for many it can be read as a dramatized history of the pugilistic arts as it started to transform into modern boxing with clearer rules making it less of a free for all.
It is a story that that will appeal to a wide range of readers. It is an enjoyable way to gain an insight into 19th century England, especially of the working class. It also provides an accessible history of prize fighting and the basis of modern boxing. But, above all it is an encouraging human story and a cracking good tale that anyone, of any age, sex and sporting interests or none, can enjoy. Highly recommended.
Bendigo, The Right Fist of God by Alan Dance and David Field (ISBN: 978-0-9558133-8-2) is published in paperback by Arundel Books.