The King’s Evil is the first in a series by Edward Marston (who wrote the marvellous Nicholas Bracewell series set in Elizabethan England) set during the Restoration and the early years of Charles II’s reign. The year is 1666, immediately after the Great Fire has decimated London and rebuilding is commencing. The book introduces the reader to young and aspiring architect Christopher Redmayne, while the series follows his fortunes and misfortunes. Though blessed with great talent, Redmayne’s greatest misfortune appears to be his brother, Henry, a Cavalier reprobate. He’s also lumbered with a God-fearing Dean for a father, a man Henry at least, fears more than the Lord Himself.
When thieves are caught ransacking materials from a house Redmayne has been commissioned to build, he’s thrown into the company of Jonathan Bale, a Puritan constable who has no time for the likes of Redmayne, let alone his brother. Forced to work together, Redmayne and Bale must solve, not only the mystery of the thieves, but also find who’s responsible for murdering the owner of the house Redmayne is building, the rather obnoxious, Sir Ambrose.
Forced to venture into houses of ill-repute – brothels and gaming – wander the crowded, dirty and dangerous streets, endure listening to lies and evasions, and encounter all types of citizens from the highest to the lowest, a grudging respect grows between Bale and Redmayne who find that, despite their wishes, if they want to bring this investigation to a close, two heads are better than one, particularly if they want to remain intact.
Well-written, Marston has a flair for capturing the period and this book is no exception. While Redmayne and Bale are well drawn, the brother, Henry tends to verge on caricature and some of the dialogue lacks the bawdy joy of his earlier series and can be long-winded and forced. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable read and I immediately downloaded the next one in the series.