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This is the fourth book in Susanna Gregory's Thomas Chaloner Adventures series. It's set in restoration London, following the fall of Cromwell and during the reign of Charles II. Thomas Chaloner is a spy working for the Lord Chancellor, Earl of Clarendon, who is unpopular with most people in the King's court.
This story runs over the twelve nights of Christmas, which are particularly full of excess and gluttony following the lifting on the Puritan ban on celebrations. However, two men are found in Westminster Hall dead, not from over-eating but they have been poisoned. What makes it even more sinister is that it looks as though someone who they knew offered them a drink of the Christmas punch and it was laced with poison.
Chaloner is set by his Earl to solve the killings as well as discover the whereabouts of a stolen bust owned by the King. As the investigation proceeds Chaloner uncovers corruption throughout Westminster that involves new characters and even some of his friends, how will Chaloner protect the people he loves whilst uncovering those responsible?
I really enjoyed this book, the author has a knack for recreating 17th century London and you really do become emersed in the surreal adventure. I like the authors ability to weave a murder mystery together with characters and events that actually did happen and her historical note at the end of the book is always really interesting.
The whole book is written through chaloner's eyes and the plot is intricate enough that you discover things as he does, meaning that I ended up having a couple of nights without much sleep, as I was so eager to find out what was going on.
If you want an adventure (and it really is an adventure rather than a murder mystery) that involves running over snowy London rooftops, winter swimming in the Thames, theft of priceless items, poisoning at every turn, mercenary gangs running riot and the debauchery of the court, then this is the book for you!
The Westminster Poisoner is the fourth novel in the Thomas Chaloner series of murder mysteries set in the reign of Charles II. Chaloner is a spy and man of adventure for the Lord Chancellor and when three of the government's clerks are all found murdered by application of poison over a short period of time Chaloner is sent out to investigate the crimes.
All the crimes are just before the Christmas period and there is also the mysterious theft of a bust of the present king's father, this bust is very dear to the king and he wants the bust returned. Chaloner is asked by the Chancellor to look into this crime as well, he is issued with a threat of dismissal if the crimes aren't solved before the Christmas period is over.
This is the fourth novel in the series and by now we are comfortable with the main characters, Chaloner is stubborn, intelligent, and resourceful, the lord chancellor is slightly vain and easily swayed by public opinion and the court of Charles is decadent corrupt and on the edge of rebellion.
Chaloner walks this world as a spy who has knowledge of the world from his overseas exploits under Cromwell and a general distrust of the flamboyance and corruption present in the court. He despairs over the people he meets and generally distrusts, he however, does have a view to the bigger picture and rarely makes the wrong choice socially.
This book and the series is really an examination of the England which struggles with religious fanaticism, the death of a king, the civil war, Oliver Cromwell and the return of the king. We see the world through Chaloner's eyes, a man with secrets and worries over his families involvement in the beheading of Charles I, he is asked to ferrett around for the secrets of other people. Through him we witness the corruption which followed the return of the monarchy and how the common people were largely ignored.
The crimes on which this book hinges are well thought out and planned, the deaths happen close enough together to make the story role along but not too close to resemble a blood bath. The book ends with a decent battle, lots of sword play and sabre rattling with a few choice truths and conspiracies explained. Chaloner of course solves the cases and in it he becomes more and more the Chancellors man, the series of novels is perhaps set up from this point to examine the struggles in post civil war Britain. I suspect Chaloner will be placed in future books closer to the king who we have yet to meet and his dissident difficult brother James.
There has been a little bit of criticism that Susanna Gregory isn't as good as CJ Sansom and I think it's just about fair, but Sansom is the standout writer of historical fiction around at the moment and is the best post Ellis Peters writer. However, Susanna Gregory is a very fine writer and shouldn't be criticised too much for not being someone else. Her books are well plotted, rigorously researched and come to satisfying conclusions.