A Conspiracy of Violence by Susanna Gregory

Rating 9.1/10
From the pen of an author at the height of her genre.

Pseudonymous Susanna Gregory finally takes the step of having a new character and a new setting. However, it is the familiar gripping plots, eloquent style and descriptive powers, taut narrative and fine characterization that remain. Her Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles are a fine example of the medieval murder mystery and it is fair to say she ranks alongside Ellis Peters at the top of the genre.

So, Thomas Falconer, a.k.a Tom Heyden, disgraced clerk, recently returned from his career in Holland, desperately seeking a reference from the old Parliamentarian power, Thurloe, and finding himself immediately embroiled in a chase through the streets of Restoration London hunting the killers of a delivery boy, Storey and Snow, hired incompetent thugs of Kelyng, a fanatical royalist and hunter of regicides.

Very quickly, Chaloner finds himself serving three masters. The first is Thurloe, the ex-Parliamentarian, with his sister Sarah and brother-in-law Dalton, who asks Chaloner to discover who murdered John Clarke, a spy he had recommended to Chaloner's second master. This is the Lord Chancellor, Lord Clarendon, who also commissions him and his aide, the military man who fears the entire animal kingdom, Evett, in another search for the hidden gold of the Tower of London that was placed there by the regicide Barkstead. This brings him into contact with Wade and Robinson who previously had assisted excavations in the Tower. His third master is to be Dalton, employed as a clerk.

Before long Chaloner is embroiled with the Brotherhood. A collective of the Leybourn brothers, his mendacious ex-master, Downing, Livesay (who was blown up), Ingoldsby, Barkstead (the executed regicide) and Hewson (who was murdered by Kelyng's men at the very beginning. Their plan to prevent the extremes of royalist and parliamentarian and the talk of the original seven men who tried to prevent the Restoration leads Chaloner into a murky plot of political intrigue where the phrases praising the son of God and number seven figure prominently.

Thrown into the mix is his personal life as his relationship with Metje, his Dutch lover, causes issues with his landlord, North, his wife Faith and Temperance, his daughter. To this home brew is added the fanatical Preacher Hill who's fire and brimstone faith is causing no end of vandalism to their local church.

In true Gregory style we are taken on a trail that twists and turns alarmingly at times as we are thrown red herring after red herring, ghostly clue after tantalizing glimpse of fact until we are thoroughly confused. Only then is Chaloner allowed to locate the keystone to the mystery and a lot of questions resolve themselves rapidly as we uncover not a dastardly plot to kill a restored King, but a tale of terrible familial revenge and hidden treasure. With our shockingly fiery conclusion, Gregory wraps us to a neat end but opens us up to a series that will rival Bartholomew's fourteenth century Cambridge in plot, characterization, sleuthing prowess and historical craftsmanship. It is no surprise to find in the author's note that all the characters bar our hero are based on real people and the society and politics described very close to the truth. What this isn't is a repeat of the hugely successful Bartholomew series and we can only eagerly look forward to a new sleuth from the pen of an author at the height of her genre.

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