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The Restraint of Beasts
by Magnus Mills

reviewed by J.M. Frank

Three Scottish fence builders go to England on assignment to build high tensile fences for "the restraint of beasts". Their work habits are not especially impressive, but then again who could blame them? Their boss is certainly no motivator of people and their customers are annoying at best. The three of them live in a camper on a farmer’s field while they complete the fences. Their days are spent working (to varying degrees) and every night is spent drinking at the local tavern. In fact, they seem to spend more on drinks than they make working. One of the three, with slightly more sense than the others, has been appointed foreman and does his best to keep them going.

There are many positive aspects to this book. This makes it especially disappointing that I cannot recommend it. On the plus side, the book is funny, with many odd characters and moments. At the same time, the situations and people are all believably portrayed. Magnus Mills accomplishes a nearly impossible balancing act by making the tedium of the work and the unpleasantness of the surroundings painfully clear, while at the same time keeping the narrative compelling.

There are really only two flaws, but unfortunately, they are big ones. Someone once said that you can judge the quality of a work by the way death is treated. Here, several deaths are treated as a minor joke. I could maybe tolerate it if the deaths were a major joke, but here they seem to be throwaway lines. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there is not much of a plot and no real ending. I am not one who believes everything must follow a standard plot line. However, a story must take you somewhere. This one goes nowhere; trailing off into nothing and leaving the reader disappointed and wondering what the point has been in reading all of those pages.


The Restraint of Beasts

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