Written by Robin Blake — Having worked as a teacher for many years, Robin Blake became a full-time writer in 1986, publishing works of fiction and non-fiction. Most notably, he is an art historian who has written about Anthony Van Dyck and George Stubbs. However, in the 1990s, Blake made his crime fiction debut with two novels based on Lynda La Plante’s Trial and Retribution TV series.
The Scrivener is the third book in his more recent Cragg and Fidelis mystery series, which began in 2011 with A Dark Anatomy. Set in Preston, Lancashire during the Georgian period, the novel is narrated by lawyer and local coroner, Titus Cragg. The year is 1742, although when the story begins Titus is recalling the tale 20 years later. The people of Preston are eagerly awaiting the ancient festival of the Preston Guild, an event that was started by the town’s guilds 200 years earlier. It occurs every 20 years.
Philip Plimbo is a pawnbroker with a lucrative business and ambitions to become the town’s first banker. That is until he is found shot dead in his office. The door to the room has been locked from the inside and Titus Cragg is ready to rule that his death was a suicide. His friend and local doctor, Luke Fidelis, is far from convinced that Plimbo took his own life. So who is right?
To the outside world Plimbo was a successful man with no visible reason to kill himself. However, before his death Plimbo wanted to discuss a matter of great importance with Titus, and his investigation soon reveals that it may have related to a bad investment made using money intended for the imminent Preston Guild festival. Added to which, the dead man had a complicated home life and mounting debts.
As the inquest approaches, Fidelis finds himself trying to find Plimbo’s mysterious business partner, Zadok Moon. When the man fails to answer the summons, the true, distasteful nature of his venture with Plimbo is revealed by insurance clerk, Tybalt Jackson, who is later found battered to death and with a stake through his chest. The pair now find themselves hunting a murderer.
There’s also another mystery for our duo to solve when a local man finds a silver apostle spoon out in the hills, and a local legend is rekindled. A hundred years earlier, a treasure was lost when a former mayor hid some of the town’s silver during the English Civil War, and was subsequently killed in the fighting. Is the spoon part of that missing hoard?
Cragg narrates his tale in a style reminiscent of Paul Doherty’s Roger Shallot novels, albeit without the vulgarity. At times, there’s an element of humour, but he’s also methodical, analytical and knows that justice isn’t always about hanging criminals. He’s a man who values the opinion of his wife, Elizabeth, who is regularly his sounding board and a source of advice. It’s a marriage very much like that of Anne Perry’s Victorian policeman, Inspector William Pitt and his wife, Charlotte. Fans of both those series will definitely enjoy this mystery. Fidelis is always ready to help his friend and to supply him with a workable theory. He doesn’t just accept things at face value. He’s also the more likely of the two to head into disreputable places when the need arises.
This is a series new to us here at Crime Fiction Lover, but The Scrivener is a superb introduction. Likeable lead characters, a well researched time period that is very easy to become absorbed in, and a well structured plot. Everything comes together nicely, although at one point, you are briefly left wondering whether that last part of the puzzle is going to remain unsatifyingly unsolved. Of course, it does get solved and in a way that doesn’t feel like an afterthought, more a teasing gentle nudge from Robin Blake, as if to say, ‘You thought I’d forgotten about that’. Well worth a read.
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CFL Rating: 5 Stars