Havoc in its Third Year is Bennett’s third novel. It is set the 1630s in the period leading up to the English civil wara town in northern England which had recently removed a corrupt and tyrannical local aristocrat, only then to be ruled by a new repressive puritanical regime.
Bennett is a writer of deep political conviction and this novel deals with universal themes, in particular the corrupting forces of power, fear of the outsider and the destitute and the nature of moral and political commitment.
The story follows the struggle of the local coroner, Brigge, who is tormented by dreams where the innocent and dispossessed beg him to intercede. One of the puritan fanatics warns him that ‘We live in bitter times and the world is divided in two: those who live inside the godly nation, and those outside. Inside is righteousness and strength. Outside is barbarism and terror,’
Initially Brigge believes that “the safest way for men in troubled times was to say nothing” but when his own family is threatened he understands his obligation to speak out and act according to his conscience. Bennett is clearly
writing the story as a parable for our times.