Nine-year-old Laddy Merridew, sent to live with his grandmother for reasons he does not understand, stumbles off the bus in a small Welsh town where he begins an unlikely friendship with old Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, the town beggar-storyteller. Through Ianto, Laddy learns of the collapse decades earlier of a coal mine called Kindly Light-a disaster whose legacy has echoed through generations, shaping lives in unexpected ways. And while Ianto spins the lively stories of so many men and women in this town, it's his own history in Kindly Light that is the story he can't tell.
Like Richard Llewellyn's beloved classic How Green Was My Valley, Vanessa Gebbie's The Coward's Tale richly evokes the tightly bound communities of old Welsh mining towns-their loyalties and betrayals, loves and losses. Like Llewellyn, Gebbie was brought up by Welsh parents in England. Unlike him, however, she took every opportunity to spend time in Wales throughout her formative years. Her sense of place is evoked with an authentic, dark beauty and a heightened, almost magical charm. Her prose is steeped in the cadences that surrounded her as a child. This rich tapestry of a novel is spellbinding and unforgettable.