This is the fourth Thomas Chaloner book I’ve read featuring the much put upon and impoverished former roundhead spy who now works for the ungrateful (and disloyal – to him) Earl of Clarendon. This time, a poisoner is at work killing the King’s clerks in brazen circumstances. When the Earl asks both Chaloner and a new man he’s appointed to investigate these crimes and the case of the king’s missing Bernini sculpture, setting them against each other, and the Earl’s own secretaries Bulteel and Haddon take bets on whether Chaloner or the new man will solve the cases, Thomas understands his job is at stake. But, it’s not only his employ that’s under threat. As usual, on the mean streets of Restoration London, it’s his life as well. With his only friend, his former boss, Thurloe, about to leave the city and his old friend, the former Puritan and now brothel madame, Temperance, fast losing patience with him and a new relationship with one of the queen’s ladies to foster, Thomas has his work cut out and many dangers to avoid – never mind worrying about where his next penny will come from.
But as the body count mounts and he’s no closer to solving the case, Thomas understands that his priorities and friendships may have to change…
Gregory has such a rich and detailed understanding of the period, of the complexities of the political, social and sexual machinations of the court, it’s sometimes hard to keep up as a cast of hundreds appear and disappear and the plot thickens until it almost congeals. Only, it doesn’t. Immersing the reader in the murky settings and even murkier plans of those who seek power at all costs, Gregory’s novels are a great way to rediscover history and cleave to a marvellous but also very human and flawed character, Thomas Chaloner.
Once again, I found part of the novel a bit slow and occasionally had to stop and remind myself who is who, but never did I lose my respect and appreciation for Gregory’s lovely writing and ability to recreate history and weave historical fact (detailed facts too and people) with fiction. It’s not surprising, considering Susanna Gregory is the pseudonym of Elizabeth Cruwys a Cambridge academic. She was also once a coroner’s officer, so her eye for detail and for being able to relate it in an authentic way is outstanding.
I do think this series is getting better and better and cannot wait to read the next instalment.