I read "Kestrel for a Knave" many years ago and enjoyed it immensely, so I was wondering if "Looks and Smiles" could follow such a hard act: it did and in spades. Set in the years around 1980, it is wonderfully evocative of these hard times. We hear of austerity measures today, but sometimes forget that things were so bad around 1980 that street lighting was reduced and sometimes switched off after 1030pm, not to save energy but simnply because local authorities couldn't aford to pay for the electricity. The words "cut backs" applied to everything and affected every walk of life.
Hines manages to capture not just the history of these times, but the attitudes and thoughts of the people, without making it so depressing that you want to stop reading - quite the reverse, he engages the reader from the first word and pulls them along through the story with consummate ease. His ear for dialogue is finely tuned and his eye for detail is unerringly accurate. The characters are well-rounded and completely believable. My only criticism (and the reason for giving 4 instead of 5 stars) is the ending which is so abrupt that I kept turning over pages, expecting (and hoping for) more. Perhaps this was the effect he was looking for, but I found it disappointing and very frustrating.