Through extensive personal knowledge, J.A. Wells evokes the spirit of a bygone age, when machinery has yet to replace the human hand. It is hop picking time in the English county of Kent, and widow Mrs Eliza Fuller, her sister, Florrie, and Eliza’s sons, George, Jack, Albert and Charlie, will regard the next six weeks of picking hops on Crowbourne Farm as a holiday in the country. Except the Fuller boys yearn for adventure, discovering it hiding in a rambling mansion. The unsolved brutal murder of a gamekeeper, together with the suspicious death of the son of a famous local dignitary, remain an irksome memory for the villagers of Goudhurst, the motive for the crimes gagged with secrecy. Only young George Fuller has the courage to solve the mystery, discovering in the process more than he bargained for.
The Tally Man is a work of fiction; the circumstance of setting the novel in the Kentish village of Goudhurst, at Crowbourne Farm, and The Vines public house, is simply for the sake of the story. My knowledge of the village, and the surrounding countryside is extensive, because, while studying at Art College, and thereafter at university during the seventies, throughout my vacation I worked on Crowbourne Farm. In the case of The Mansion; I was prompted to call it such, from discovering it referred to as The Mansion consistently over several British census records of the Goudhurst and Bedgebury region. With the assistance of these records, made available to me on Ancestry.com, I am able to populate the entire story with the real residents of Goudhurst. John and Bessie Barrow were, in reality, the proprietors of The Vines Hotel, around 1905; the period in which the story takes place; as was Mr Smith, the farmer at Crowbourne, Mr Skinner, the local police constable, and Mr Gripper, the school master. The inclusion of the mental institution, Brandfold House, several miles beyond Goudhurst, was also prompted by findings in the 1901 census, the names of the practitioner, Doctor Douglas, and his two assistants, Albert and Thomas, utilised to add authenticity. Several prominent local characters, current at the time, also appear, though their names have been altered for reasons of expediency.