Murder on High Holborn – Susanna Gregory

There has been a bit of a gap in posts as we have been on holiday/annual book buying tour. Apart from the predictable places (Heffers in Cambridge, Persephone in Bloomsbury, second hand bookshops everywhere) we also found in the depths of Shropshire a Guildhall opened as an honesty bookshop full (yes, as in a room full) of second hand books for the choosing. One box full later (with a suitable donation, honest!) the car looked less like a car for luggage and more than a travelling bookshop. So nothing new there then…

One of the side effects of this travelling is the opportunity to listen to an audiobook. On thirteen discs we listened to Murder on High Holborn by Susanna Gregory. On this blog I have written often about Gregory’s other series, the Matthew Bartholmew books set in fourteenth century Cambridge, and I have been eagerly reading each book as they have come out in hardback from the library. The Thomas Chaloner series, set in Restoration London, have largely passed me by; I read the first when they started to come out and I went to an author event where they were launched – in 2006! I picked up the paperbacks more or less as they came out, but never really read them. I think that, having listened to this, I will change that…

In this episode of the ongoing adventures of Thomas, (possible spoiler alert, I’m not sure how much this reveals of the previous books), Chaloner is charged with trying to discover what is going on with a proposed plot to overthrow the King (Charles II) and government, and usher in the final millennium. Alongside this, he has to find the murderer of a courtier in a brothel and why the ship London has sunk with all hands in a peaceful stretch of river.

On a more mundane level his wife is spending freely and London is beset by rain and mud. There is adventure, more death and much running around London and its environs. There is comedy, as one of the characters goes by the name of Consti Pate. The other characters, including a drunken Admiral, Prince Rupert and spies of varying degrees of ineptitude have all got their own agendas, and many of them are willing to kill to achieve their aims. The pace of this novel is fast, to reflect the relentless nature of Chaloner’s many tasks and investigations, but he does get time to sleep and eat. This is not a seventeenth century 24, and there is enormous detail in the modes of travelling, clothing, weaponry and life generally. As in Gregory’s other series of books, there are many “how will he get out of this?” moments and generally given the high body count this is a good novel. There are few female characters, and I must admit I got some of the men muddled up in my mind. It is an historical murder mystery, thriller, and therefore perhaps not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. (As did Husband, as he dealt with yet another lot of road works). It would not be necessary to have read the other books in the series to enjoy this, but it would help to understand the setting. Medicine is a bit primitive, and there is a real fear of the supernatural as worked on by several characters. I can certainly recommend this book for as an historical adventure with great characters. I think that I will still prefer the Matthew B. series, but these books will certainly fill the year gaps between each episode of that series.

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