Sunday 24 July 2016

The Ashes of London

Finished July 24
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

This historical mystery novel begins with the great fire of London in early September 1666. King Charles II had regained the throne in 1660 following the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, and Charles I's execution by beheading in 1649. The plague had appeared repeatedly in London, most recently in 1665, when the mortality rate reached one in five.
When Charles II gained the throne, most who had fought against the crown were pardoned, excepting those labelled the Regicides, those directly instrumental in the King's execution.
As the story begins, James Marwood has been drawn, along with many others, to St. Paul's as it burns in the fire. He notes a boy venturing dangerously close to the scene and seeming unsteady, and when he goes after him to save him from the fire, he discovers it is a young woman, and she escapes both the flames and him, taking his cape with her.
James' father was one of the men against the crown, although not a Regicide, and who is now slipping into dementia. James is trying to keep him housed and fed and out of trouble, and thus works at Whitehall for Joseph Williamson, who founded and published the London Gazette, as well as being a civil servant, under-secretary to Lord Arlington. Marwood worked for Williamson at Scotland Yard as a clerk.and general dogsbody. Because of his father's history, he gets drawn into events that may involve one of the men labelled Regicide, who is still at large.
The boy/woman is Catherine Lovett, now living with her aunt, uncle and cousin. Her father was a Regicide and is still uncaught. She hopes to find him again, but despairs of it. Her uncle has made a marriage arrangement for her, but she is not happy with his choice. Catherine spent a lot of time in her youth at the country home of another aunt and uncle who encouraged her interest in architecture and left her the estate when they died. Thus, while Catherine has property, she is of a time when women had few rights to behave according to their own wishes.
With the search for Catherine's father, the disorganized state of the city due to the fire, the bodies of seemingly murdered men found in suspicious circumstances, and both Catherine and James trying to protect themselves while looking for answers, this book has lots going on. Bringing elements of the real history of this time period with real figures made this book very interesting.

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