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I started reading this set of Susanna Gregory novels when I had run out of other books and saw them in the library. Susanna Gregory is a pseudonym for an author who used to be a forensic specialist, so she can describe all the gorey details very well.
This particular book is part of the Thomas Chaloner Adventure series set in Restoration London, the monarchy has been restoree following Cromwell's reign and White Hall and the courts are full of debauchery. Tensions are running high in London and spies are a must have. Enter Thomas Chaloner, he was a spy during Cromwell's reign and was stationed in Europe, but following Cromwell's execution and the king's restoration he wasn't required by the new Spymaster (Williamson) because combined with the fact that he spied for the other side his uncle had been executed as a regicide so he couldn't be trusted. So he makes his living spying for the unpopular Lord Chancellor, Clarendon, who is a stuffy man who is incredibly stubborn and difficult to work for, because he doesn't seem to understand that keeping his mouth shut aides his spy.
So that's the background to the adventures and this is the fifth book. The four before it have set the scene well and by the time I had got to this one I knew who most of the main characters are and what their relationship with Chaloner is. I'm not going to give away the plot to this book, as that would be a bit pointless in a review. But it centres around the old London Bridge, which is described in amazing detail. The bridge had houses on it and there is a rumour that St. Thomas Beckett's remains are in one of the old churches. Chaloner witnesses an old iconoclast get murdered on the bridge and is asked to investigate. But nothing is ever that simple in Chaloner's world, enter the Catholic dowager and her minions, two scientists saying the Thames is not flowing properly, the ghost of the old king wandering the streets of London, St. Paul's cathedral falling apart, Chaloner's best friend Thurloe being secretive, a mysterious gang of armed men plotting to do goodness knows what, Clarendon getting angry about his Bishop's dinner being disturbed and a gunpowder plot to rival Guy Fawkes.
I thought this was the best Chaloner book I've read so far, I couldn't put it down and had finished it in 3 days. The books are so descriptive you feel like you are actually in the London of the late 1600s. The plot twists and turns and I hadn't guessed the ending by the time I got there so that's always a plus.
I also like that the author puts a historical note at the end of all the books that explain which characters were based on real people and where she found the information about them. I've had a thing for historical books for the last few months and have read some terrible ones, but this one is great, it seems to be so historically accurate and Chaloner is quite a modern man in terms of his opinions. His girlfriend is Catholic and there is a real hatred of Catholics in London at this time (in fact they are going to be blamed for the gunpowder plot) yet he says that her faith and how she chooses to worship is none of his business. He seems quite liberal in his thinking, which is probably a good thing given the mess he gets landing into in this book.
All in all a thoroughly good read.
A murder on London Bridge is the fifth novel in the Thomas Chaloner murder mystery series written by Susanna Gregory. The book as the title suggests revolves around the old London Bridge, when a man is murdered on the bridge Chaloner is asked by the Lord Chancellor Earl Clarendon to investigate the crime.
This is the fifth book in the Chaloner series, he is a man in his thirties his uncle was one of the men who signed the death warrant of Charles I (a real person by the way, though Thomas is fictional) he was injured during the wars as a young boy but has managed to carve out a career as a spy. He spent many years spying on the Dutch for the Commonwealth under the spymaster general Thurloe, however, he returned to England just before the restoration in 1660. Chaloner has for the duration of the novels been in the employ of Earl Clarendon, England's Lord Chancellor and effectively leader of the country. Clarendon is a portly awkward character but Chaloner respects him, through his allegiances we view the trials and tribulations of Charles II decadent corrupt court and the stinking morass of the general population of London.
The Body on the Bridge.
The book starts with a very simple introduction, an attempt to cause some kind of atrocity goes wrong then a few days later a man is stabbed on London Bridge. Chaloner is on the bridge when the man is stabbed and recognises him as a strict Parliamentarian who had become notorious under Cromwell for his destruction of church icons. Chaloner takes on the case; soon afterwards a potential source of information is killed in front of his eyes by an employee of the new spymaster Williamson. The Bridge where the murder takes place soon becomes the centre of the mystery, it is old, falling down but seems to be a barometer of the mood of the city. The king's mother has an interest in the house where the murder took place and the very foundations of the bridge seem to have a way of portending the mood of the nation.
Added to the simple murder are the antics of the college of surgeons, who appear to be behaving in an odd manner, they are trying to get hold of any dead bodies for public exhibition of their skills. They have a desire both for the murdered man and the killed informant, but Chaloner soon detects changes in the corpses and an air of deception is rife at the college.
All this soon adds to a book which has a far larger scope than any of the Chaloners novels, in it we meet doctors, prostitutes, the king, the kings mother, the kings mistress, the surgeon general and the bishops of the realm. They all have parts of the story and all of them add something to the feeling of deception, corruption and vice running through Charles II court. In this novel we meet Chaloner's new girlfriend a maid of honour called Hannah and we once again meet Surgeon Wiseman who appeared briefly in the previous novels. His involvement in putting Chaloner's broken arm into a cast added a little bit of humour to what could have been a rather dark tale, his booming personality and tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time also added to the humour.
As I've said before I prefer Susanna Gregory's Chaloner novels compared with her Matthew Bartholomhew books because they have a faster pace have more action and generally have a sense of being more believable than a Cambridge don investigating murders in the university. This has been so far her best novel in the series mainly because the cast of characters was the most extensive and all of them added something to the story. Indeed the novel played out on quite a few levels, there was a murder to solve, a girl to woo, two friends of Chaloner's become intimate and the broken arm add a dash of humour.
This has so far been my favourite Susanna Gregory novel and I look forward to her next.