The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor

The Royal Secret cover

The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor is the fifth book in his Marwood and Lovett series which I’ve really enjoyed reading, I think this one is even better than the previous books in the series.

The year is 1670 and two young disgruntled girls are plotting to kill a man. Mr Abbott is Maria’s drunken step-father and Hannah is a servant in the household who is regularly beaten by Abbott. Hannah persuades Maria to help with the process which she says involves witchcraft – a dangerous business given the times. After the death of Mr Abbott Marwood looks around the now deserted home of the victim and he suspects that murder may have been committed. It seems that Abbott had been entangled with some dubious characters and had been drawn into frequenting a gambling house which had ruined him.

Meanwhile Cat Hakesby, nee Lovett is continuing with her architect business after the death of her elderly husband, annoyingly most people seems to assume that she isn’t actually doing any of the work and leaves it to one of her employees. After the success of a very grand design for a poultry house she’s asked to come up with an even more ornate plan for the much loved sister-in-law of the French king – Madame, the Duchess of Orleans (Minette) who happens to be the sister of King Charles II. The project requires a visit to the proposed site of the building in France and the trip there is eventful.

While at the French Court Cat is amazed to recognise a Dutchman she had had dealings with in London. Why is Mr Van Riebeeck in disguise and using another name?

Marwood and Cat are thrown together after some unfortunate presumptions on Cat’s part had led to a coolness between them. Marwood is on the track of the Dutchman and Cat can help. Thankfully this moves their relationship along somewhat, I live in hope – especially as Marwood’s whole face is transformed by his smile.

This was a great read, very well researched and based around actual facts. It’s one of those books that I didn’t want to come to an end so I’m already looking forward to the next one in the series.

Thanks to HarperCollins UK for a digital copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor

 The Last Protector cover

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor is set in London 1668 where Oliver Cromwell’s son Richard has arrived clandestinely from France where he has been living. With the restoration of the King after the end of Cromwell’s Commonwealth following the civil war, Richard had been laden down with his father’s debts and he was in France to avoid his debtors. He’s really homesick for the countryside and his family apparently.

Cat Lovett had been friendly with the Cromwells as a child, a supposedly chance encounter with Richard’s daughter Elizabeth leads to a rekindling of the friendship. But Cat is suspicious, especially when her husband is befriended by Elizabeth and her friend Mr Cranmore.

There’s unrest in London as the Stuart court is completely immoral and there are many papists within it. This is upsetting a lot of people, particularly the Duke of Buckingham and his supporters and it seems that there might be a plot to overthrow the king. This is worrying for Cat, the daughter of a regicide, but her husband has always supported the Cromwells and he can’t be persuaded that he’s putting them in danger. Can Marwood protect Cat?

This is the fourth book in Taylor’s Marwood and Lovett series and I’m really looking forward to reading the next one The Royal Secret which is due to be published later this week.

The books are atmospheric and informative. The Guardian said of it: ‘This is historical crime at its dazzling best.’

The King’s Evil by Andrew Taylor

 The King's Evil cover

The King’s Evil by Andrew Taylor was published in 2019 and it’s the third book in his Marwood and Lovett series, the first one being The Fire Court and the second book The Ashes of London. It’s 1667 now, so just after the Great Fire of London and the city is obviously still in turmoil with homeless refugees forming lawless camps outside the city.

A body has been discovered down a well and Marwood is asked to investigate it. It turns out that it’s the body of Edward Alderley who is Cat Lovett’s cousin and a person that Cat despises for all sorts of reasons, not least because his branch of their family has robbed Cat of her inheritance. Marwood fears that Cat is the culprit since she had previously attacked Alderley, as she has disappeared things look very black for her, but Marwood is determined to save her from the noose. Obviously Marwood has to discover who the real murderer is.

As ever I’m not saying too much about the plot, suffice to say that for me there were plenty of surprises and interesting characters as well as historical details.

These books are so atmospheric of just how I imagine London to have been in the reign of Charles II. A dangerous place to be with huge differences in the wealth and poverty of the population – actually nothing much has changed in that regard in London!

The King's Evil End Papers

I really love the endpapers of this book however the publishers state that they are a map of the area of London affected by the Great Fire in 1666. This is obviously wrong and I suppose this is meant to show the type of grand house – Clarendon House, which appears in the book.

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor

 The Fire Court cover

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor was published in 2018 and it’s the second book in his James Marwood series which is set just after the Great Fire of London. The previous book in this series is called The Ashes of London and in that one Marwood’s future seems much brighter as he has been noticed by the king, but his elderly father is a problem and he’s beginning to wander from home and get into trouble.

It’s 1667 and The Fire Court has been set up to settle all disputes between tenants and landlords of property which had been burnt in the Great Fire. In Marwood senior’s latest wander he thinks he has seen his wife Rachel in the distance, forgetting that she is long dead. He chases after her and eventually finds himself in the building where the Fire Court is held. But when he tracks down Rachel in an upstairs room he realises it isn’t his wife at all, but worse than that – the woman is dead – there’s been a murder.

But when he tells his son James about it, James is sceptical to begin with as he knows his father is becoming more and more confused. It isn’t long before James thinks that his father’s tale just might be true and so begins in investigation which leads to danger for him and his young assistant Cat Lovett.

This was another enjoyable read, so atmospheric of London as it must have been post the Great Fire. I see that he has published another one in this series – called The King’s Evil so I hope to get hold of a copy of that one soon.

Reading Andrew Taylor’s Wiki page I was really surprised to see that he had written the Bergerac books which were televised back in the 1980s, although he wrote those under the name of Andrew Saville.

The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor

The Scent of Death cover

The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor was published in 2013. I wasn’t too sure of this one at the beginning but it wasn’t long before I got right into it.

The setting is 1778 New York, a city that has just suffered another devastating fire, the second within two years. Edward Savill has just arrived in the city, he’s a young clerk who has been sent from London to represent the British government, his job is to investigate the financial claims of loyalists who have lost possessions and property in the ongoing wars for Independence.

Manhattan is awash with refugees, soldiers, runaway slaves and spies and it’s a dangerous place to move around in – even by day. No rebuilding has gone on as people are cconcentrating on war, not building, so large numbers of people are living in Canvas Town, a dangerous place even in daylight. Edward Savill is lodging with the Wintour family who have themselves lost an estate which is on land that has been taken over by the rebels. The Wintours are very much poorer than they had been and Edward chooses to continue to lodge with them mainly because he knows his rent money is so useful for them, but it’s not long before he realises that there are problems within the household and he suspects that a spy has infiltrated the place.

Although I guessed what was going on in the mystery parts of the book this was an atmospheric and enjoyable read.

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor

Bleeding Heart Square cover

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor was first published in 2008. I think it’s the third book by the author that I’ve read but it’s probably the one that I’ve liked least although I would give it a 3.5. I was quite disappointed by the ending because for me it left a lot of trailing threads and I thought maybe there was a sequel to it – but apparently not.

The setting is London in 1934, a time of social upheaval with Fascists rearing their ugly heads. Lydia Langstone’s wealthy husband Marcus has become involved with the Fascists, as so many of the upper class did, he’s hoping to get a top job within the organisation – well he would get an even better uniform to wear! But when Marcus attacks Lydia in a fit of pique she wastes no time in getting out of the house, reasoning that anywhere will be better than staying at home to be knocked about by a brutish husband.

Life in poverty is a shock for Lydia and people seem to think she’s just playing at being poor when they hear her cut-glass accent, but she has no option but to stay in a cheap boarding house where there are some strange people and goings on and Lydia becomes involved in what turns out to be a murder mystery.

I think that Andrew Taylor managed to conjure up the atmosphere of 1930s London, with Sir Oswald Mosley’s thugs attacking people who happened not to agree with them. Remind you of anyone?

I borrowed this one from the library and also The Scent of Death by the same author so I’ll be getting to that one soon.

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor was published in 2016 and it begins during the Great Fire of London. Between 300 and 400,000 people lived in London at the time and as so much of the city burned down people don’t have homes or even any possessions, the refugees are the lucky ones really as they’ve survived, but none of them is unscathed.

There are bodies all over the place, some of them hundreds of years old as the crypts of the many burnt out churches are visible, in fact people are turning up to gawp at bodies of once famous people, well what’s left of them anyway. However when fresh bodies begin to turn up and they’ve had their thumbs tied together behind their backs it’s obvious that there’s a murderer about.

It’s only six years after the restoration of King Charles II to the throne and he’s determined to track down the people who were instrumental in having his father executed, so this book turns into a bit of a political thriller as well as being a murder mystery.

Andrew Taylor is really good at developing what feels like an authentic atmosphere of London, and its characters of those times.

As ever my thoughts on this book are on the scanty side for fear of spoilers but if you want to read a much more detailed review have a look at Margaret’s @ BooksPlease.

Library haul

Yesterday I went to the library to take back the Elly Griffiths book that I’ve just finished, I still had a couple of weeks before it was due up, but I noticed that somebody had requested it so I knew they would be glad to get their hands on it as soon as possible.

Library Book Haul 1

However, the librarian triumphantly presented me with four books that I had requested. Why is it that they all arrive at the same time? I’m supposed to be concentrating on reading my own books too! I really shouldn’t complain I suppose, especially as two of the books were recently recommended by bloggers that I trust.

Library Book Haul 2

Rosabelle Shaw by D.E. Stevenson
The English Air by D.E. Stevenson
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor
The Poison Bed by E.C. Fremantle

The D.E. Stevensons had to be dug out of Fife’s Reserve Stock and they’re quite ancient but I’m working my way through all of her books, some of which could be described as comfort reads but often have stories revolving around families, and we all know that families can be problematical, and others deal with wartime problems. Rosabelle Shaw is a historical novel and so far I’m enjoying it. At least I’ll be able to renew those ones if I don’t manage to get them all read on time.

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

This is the first book which I’ve read by Andrew Taylor, I’m fairly sure that I had never even heard of him until Margaret@BooksPlease mentioned another of his books. I’ll definitely be reading more by him in the future as I did enjoy this one which was published in 2010.

The setting is 1786 and the book begins in London where John Holdsworth, a bookseller/binder, is living with his wife and young son. Tragedy strikes the family though and Holdsworth’s life falls apart. A chance meeting with an old acquaintance enables Holdsworth to move to Cambridge, in the employ of Lady Anne Oldershaw. She has read a book which Holdsworth has written – The Anatomy of Ghosts, in which he claimed ghosts are delusions. Lady Anne hires Holdsworth to help her son Frank who had been a student at Jerusalem College, Cambridge, where he thought he had seen a ghost. Frank Oldershaw has been locked up as a dangerous lunatic. Can John Holdsworth secure his release? Should Frank be free and what exactly has been going on in the Holy Ghost Club, a secret society which is only open to the rich, elite students of Jerusalem College.

I found this book to be a page turner, which is just as well as it’s fairly hefty at 469 pages. I don’t normally read what other people say about books before I write anything about them but I did this time, just because I had never read anything by Taylor before. I was surprised to see on Goodreads that someone mentions that it’s a short book – it makes me wonder if the reviewer had read the book at all, very strange.

Library Books

My local library is out of action at the moment as it’s in the middle of major refurbishment. So for the last 15 months or so we’ve had to put up with a tiny library which they have opened in one of the many empty shops in the High Street, it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing I suppose. But over the last week I’ve managed to visit two bigger libraries in different Fife towns and the selection was better, so I ended up borrowing:

Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Death at the Opera by Gladys Mitchell
The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson
Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

I think all of these books or authors have been recommended by other bloggers or commenters, which leads me to wonder how I chose my reading matter before the internet. I’m sure it was Margaret@BooksPlease who pointed me in the direction of Catriona McPherson and Andrew Taylor, but I’ve kicked off with Miss Buncle Married as I enjoyed Miss Buncle’s Book so much.

I also have five books on request so I’ll have to get down to more reading, just at the time when I’m also trying to buff my house and garden up. There aren’t enough hours in the day.