Elizabeth Gaskell was most famous for 'Cranford' and, I suppose, after the excellent BBC TV adaptation, also 'North and South'. This is an earlier book and shows signs of inexperience and even naivete in the narration, but it carries the reader forward by the power of a compelling story and, even more, the moral conviction that lies behind Mrs. Gaskell's concern for the working people in the book and the hard, uncertain lives they lead, struggling with poverty, disease and uncertain employment in Industrial Revolution Manchester. Her compassion and her Christian conscience are everywhere apparent in the tale of Mary, torn between her love for Jem Wilson and her anxiety for her brooding, damaged father. Relations between workers and employers are central in the book, but the author does not see things in simple black and white, them and us terms, though she is very critical of the effects of the employers' decisions. Mr. Carson, the millowner, himself a man who has achieved financial power by hard graft, is not a one-dimensional figure, and his behaviour towards the end shows a depth of human decency which enhances the book. It's a dark tale, with a murder at its centre, and the courageous journey Mary makes to Liverpool to find a key witness for the trial makes compelling reading. Characterisation can be thin (though Job Legh, the old self-taught naturalist, is interesting) and Mrs. Gaskell has a tendency to overwrite in places, but this is still an important and impressive book, and it repays the reader many times over.