What it’s about:
This is a story about murder and conspiracy set in Elizabethan London. It is also the story of personal tragedy and how the kindness – or wickedness – of strangers can have a huge impact on a life.
Blurb from the publisher:
LONDON, 1590. Queen Elizabeth I’s control over her kingdom is wavering. Amidst a tumultuous backdrop of Spanish plotters, Catholic heretics and foreign wars threatening the country’s fragile stability, the body of a small boy is found in the City of London, with strange marks that no one can explain.
When idealistic physician Nicholas Shelby finds another body displaying the same marks only days later, he becomes convinced that a killer is at work, preying on the weak and destitute of London.
Determined to find out who is behind these terrible murders, Nicholas is joined in his investigations by Bianca, a mysterious tavern keeper. As more bodies are discovered, the pair find themselves caught in the middle of a sinister plot. With the killer still at large, and Bianca in terrible danger, Nicholas’s choice seems impossible – to save Bianca, or save himself…
Who are the main characters?
The protagonist is Nicholas Shelby, a fictional character who is a skilled physician but there are a plethora of secondary characters who vary from being fictionalised historical figures (Sir Fulke Vasey and Baron John Lumley for example) to the outright historically accurate (as in Queen Elizabeth herself). The characters are all well drawn and authentic, which was a pleasant surprise to me. I studied the history of medicine as part of my degree and was prepared to be annoyed at the historical inaccuracies that this type of book seems to contain, but it was a complete joy to find that all the medical and public health stuff was spot on. Without giving too much of the plot away, there was one character that didn’t seem quite right to me. The female child who found her way to the kitchens of Nonsuch Palace was the only one that didn’t quite ring true for me, but the rest were fantastically accurate and believable so it was easy for me to overlook my annoyance at her.
Where is it set?
It is set in 1590 in London. Much of the action takes place in Southwark, on the dodgy side of the river, but there is a fair bit that takes place in the more pleasant surroundings of Surrey.
My thoughts on the book:
I picked this up because the front cover said “for fans of C J Sansom’s Tombland”, but I have fallen for that type of hype before so didn’t have many great hopes for it as I began to read. But within a paragraph, I was hooked in. The plotting was superb, the emotional journey we go through with Nicholas Shelby was really well done, and the characters entirely believable and authentic. The denouement, even though it was signalled throughout the book, when it came, was a joy to read.
The only thing that put me off a bit was that it was written in the present tense, which I found distracting most of the way through. I am studying creative fiction for my MA so I recognise why the technique is used (to keep up the suspense for the reader and to make the action more immediate and intense – will he get out of this cellar? We don’t know because it hasn’t happened yet!), and I recognise the skill employed by the writer to keep that level of immediacy for a whole novel, but still, it is not a technique I like and it was quite a large fly in the ointment for me. If you don’t notice things like that or if it doesn’t bother you then don’t let my comment put you off reading it.
Will I read the next in the series?
Yes I will. I like the character of Nicholas Shelby and think he has got quite a journey ahead of him which I would like to be a part of, the scene setting and the way Perry has brought Elizabethan London to life is brilliant and I want more of it, and the seeds of possible character development with a couple of the other characters have been sown that I would like to see come to fruition in a series of these. The next one is due out later this year, so there’s a little bit of a wait.
Would I recommend it to my friends?
Yes. If you like crime, thrillers, historical fiction etc then this is definitely for you. There is a little bit of guts and gore, but it is not that graphic that it would make you squeamish or put you off your dinner. It is no more gruesome than any other crime thriller or detective novel out there, it’s just that because it’s historical fiction, it might come as a bit of a surprise if you’re not used to it.