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The Piccadilly plot is the seventh in the Thomas Chaloner novels set in restoration England in and around 1660-1670's. The novels are written by Susanna Gregory who is best known for her Matthew Bartholomhew books set in a Cambridge college in the 14th century. The Chaloner novels differ from the MB books in that there is only one main character and the action tends to be a bit more James Bond compared with Inspector Morse, still the books tend to engage the reader and transport them back to a time of decadence, deceit and dubious morals all set around the court of Charles II.
Thomas Chaloner is a nephew of one of the men who signed the death warrant of Charles I (there really is a signature of a T. Chaloner on the death warrant); however, the younger Thomas is completely fictitious. He fought in the civil wars and did some work for the spymaster general under Cromwell, he was sent to Holland and France as a diplomat/spy and therefore has a more Bohemian view on the world than his contemporaries and can speak fluent Dutch and French. He is in his early 30's in this novel, he has a stocky build, intelligent and when not sleuthing can play the bass viol with considerable skill. In this book he has just married one of Queen Katherine maids in waiting and is working for the Earl of Clarendon who is effectively the Prime minister.
The Piccadilly plot begins with a massacre of English troops at Tangiers, in which a troop of men are given false information and their whereabouts leaked to hostile natives. The precise reason is to have the company commander killed and therefore kill one of the men who have information about a plot to bring down the English government. Chaloner is returning back from Holland when one of his companions on the boat is killed when they moor at the London docklands. His last words are something about a Piccadilly plot and the word Tangiers, so Chaloner prompted by Clarendon is sent to Tangiers to investigate the massacre. Chaloner soon uncovers corruption in the local officers and suspects that the massacre was instigated by one of the crowns officials but can't pin down which one. He returns to London and is asked to look into the matter further as well as to investigate where Clarendon's expensive building supplies for a grand mansion are going at night.
So the novel soon develops into an investigation into the shadowy doings of a group of English businessmen who seem to know too much about the massacre and why the loss of the control of Tangiers would be good for their business and a set of unusual encounters in Clarendon's house as Chaloner tries to find the elusive thief. As you can suspect the two cases are intertwined and the fate of one investigation influences the other.
The book continues and brings together in a couple of fun and frantic chapters the conclusion to the Piccadilly plot along and the identification of the thief, both plot and thief were attempts to undermine Clarendon and Chaloner at the last moment discovers why.
As with all the Chaloner novels, the fun of the book is the depiction of the real characters, Chaloner is fictional but nearly all the other characters we meet have some degree of historical fact. So the Earl of Clarendon's character is closely related to his habits and behaviour as described in court missives and the pamphlets published at the time. We also meet the king and queen, the king's mistress, the king's mistress's lover, the opposition to Clarendon in parliament etc. However, the most impressive aspect of any book by Susanna Gregory is that such characters as the officials in Tangiers are real people, of course they have very different outcomes and actions than their real versions but at least a person called that was the ambassador in Tangiers or was the Speaker of the House etc.
This is the seventh novel in the series and the series as a whole has become established as a bit of a
17th century James Bond, all though with Periwinkle wigs, buckle shoes and coffee shops. I enjoyed the novel immensely, yes the plot has a few holes and some of the coincidences are a bit unlikely perhaps, Chaloner is chasing the thief of the building apparatus and happens to find himself above a clandestine meeting of some of the plotters in the Piccadilly plot but it moves the story along and keeps the reader guessing.
So a decent 7th outing and hopefully more to come from Thomas Chaloner, this novel is set in 1663 and I'm looking forward to what the author is going to do with Chaloner during the plague and the great fire.