Written by Susanna Gregory — It’s the autumn of 1664, Charles II has been on the throne for four years and London is busy enjoying the Restoration, but behind the façade of sumptuous buildings and jollity, the rats are gathering and plots are being hatched, which can only mean that a period of darkness is looming. Gentleman spy, Thomas Chaloner, who returns for his seventh investigation, has been recalled from his posting in Tangier by his employer, the Earl of Clarendon. He must enquire into a spate of thefts from the site where the Earl’s new home is being built.
Initially Chaloner deems the thefts to be harmless, but when death threats are made against Clarendon’s architect, a rather odious little man by the name of Roger Pratt, it seems possible that the two may be linked. Chaloner is charged with the tasks of finding out who is behind the thefts and protecting Pratt, who views the threats as nothing more than confirmation of his own brilliance. However, the situation becomes even more dangerous when the Queen, Catherine of Braganza, is implicated, and Chaloner is left with the added puzzle of discovering why someone is trying to frame her for treason.
Chaloner is looking forward to seeing his new wife Hannah, but no sooner does he set foot on dry land than the captain of the ship he has just disembarked from is stabbed by an assassin. His dying words are ‘Piccadilly and ‘trade’. But what could they mean? A week later, John Cave, a celebrated royal court tenor who has also sailed from Tangier on the very same ship, is killed in a street fight. Could the key to Chaloner’s investigation be connected with events that occurred in Tangier just before he left?
What makes this book such an entertaining read is the fact that it has a liberal sprinkling of moments in it that are reminiscent of a Restoration comedy, so you’ll find yourself quietly chuckling at a rather humorous scene or a passing sardonic comment that’s blissfully passed over the head of its intended recipient. There’s also a strong sense of adventure about the story, with hidden ciphers, disappearing corpses, intrigue aplenty, and spies lurking in the shadows. What more could you want? Chaloner’s Parliamentarian past also means that he must exercise caution, as he constantly faces opposition from those around him, who throw the odd obstacle in his path in an attempt to hinder his endeavours.
At 480 pages, this is quite a weighty tome but an extremely easy book to get into, especially if historical crime fiction is your thing. It’s quite an action packed story which hits the ground running and satisfyingly keeps up the momentum. You’ll find yourself caught up in a well-crafted web of intrigue with a nail biting conclusion, that’s not only full of surprises, but will have you on the edge of your seat. Fans of Ms Gregory will not be disappointed by her latest offering.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars