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The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger

The second book in the “John Gower” series, The Invention of Fire is stellar historical fiction, with a gripping plot, terrific characters and a fantastic grasp of the period that plunges the reader into the political machinations of 1386 London.

When numerous bodies are found dumped in a the public latrine in the city, all bar one having died from being shot by the new and deadly weapon, the handgonne, Gower (and others) are both concerned and intrigued. When yet more bodies turn up, including some innocent peasants in the English settlement of Calais, it’s evident something dark and terrible is afoot. All the evidence points to one of the Lord Appellants, those who managed to wrest power from the mercurial King Richard II.  

Gower, in his usual indomitable way, does what he can to not only discover the culprit, but the reasons behind what appears to make no sense – these random multiple deaths – and on the eve of the Riding – the changeover of the London Mayor. 

In the meantime, a talented craftsman, who works at a London foundry, is asked to develop a new weapon without informing his employer. Torn between loyalty to his mistress and his country, but also carrying a deadly secret, the man has little choice but to obey what’s against his better moral judgement. 

A married couple join a pilgrimage to the Palatinate near Durham – innocent enough on the surface, but what are they really hiding?

Only Gower, with a little help from the newly appointed JP of Kent, Geoffrey Chaucer, has the nous to unravel the threads that tie these people, mysteries and dire circumstances together – but can he before more death hits the streets – or worse, those closest to the throne?

Masterfully written, with great use of real history and invented scenarios, this is a murder-mystery filled with intrigue, suspense and great dialogue, all set against the medieval landscape of England. Characters from history and Holsinger’s imagination leap from the page and his eye for detail – historic and personal – make this an exceptional read. 

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