Author: Susanna Gregory, 2006.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Historical Mystery. Restoration London. Spy Thriller.
Other Details: Paperback. 502 pages.
The dour days of Cromwell are over. Charles II is well established at White Hall Palace, his mistress at hand in rooms over the Holbein bridge, the heads of some of the regicides on public display. London seethes with new energy, freed from the strictures of the Protectorate, but many of its inhabitants have lost their livelihoods. One is Thomas Chaloner, a reluctant spy for the feared Secretary of State, John Thurloe, and now returned from Holland in desperate need of employment. His erstwhile boss, knowing he has many enemies at court, recommends Thomas to Lord Clarendon, but in return demands that Thomas keep him informed of any plot against him. But what Thomas discovers is that Thurloe had sent another ex-employee to White Hall and he is dead, supposedly murdered by footpads near the Thames. Chaloner volunteers to investigate his killing: instead he is despatched to the Tower to unearth the gold buried by the last Governor. He discovers not treasure, but evidence that greed and self-interest are uppermost in men's minds whoever is in power, and that his life has no value to either side. - synopsis from publisher's website.
This is a series that I have wanted to read for some time and am glad that I finally plucked the first novel from the library shelf. It proved an excellent historical mystery as Susanna Gregory captures the sights, sounds and smells of Restoration London along with portraying the lingering tensions between those forces that had torn the country apart before and during the Civil War. The novel opens in December 1662 and Chaloner's unfamiliarity with the social and political make-up of London allows for a degree of exposition that usefully serves to inform the reader. I am not all that familiar with this period of English history and felt that she provided enough background to appreciate the situation Chaloner finds himself in.
The novel has quite a complex plot as well as a large cast of characters and I rather wish that it had included a list of characters or that I'd thought to make a few notes when people were introduced as I found that I had to flip back quite often to remind myself of who was who. Gregory provides notes at the end about the historical figures that populate the pages. I certainly plan to continue with the series.