Death in St James's Park by Susanna Gregory (The Exploits of Thomas Chaloner: Book 8)

Five years after Charles II's triumphant return to London there is growing mistrust of his extravagant court and of corruption among his officials - and when a cart laden with gunpowder explodes outside the General Letter Office, it is immediately clear that such an act is more than an expression of outrage at the inefficiency of the postal service.

As intelligencer to the Lord Chamberlain, Thomas Chaloner cannot understand why a man of known incompetence is put in charge of investigating the attack while he is diverted to make enquiries about the poisoning of birds in the King's aviary in St James's Park. He becomes even more suspicious of his employer's motives when he discovers that the witnesses he needs to interview have close links to the business conducted in the General Letter Office, activities more firmly centred on intercepting people's mail than delivering it.

Then human rather than avian victims are poisoned, and Chaloner knows he has to ignore his master's instructions and use his own considerable wits to defeat an enemy whose deadly tentacles reach into the very heart of the government: an enemy who has the power and expertise to destroy anyone who stands in the way…

I am well aware my effusive praise of the peerless Susanna Gregory is a common thread whenever I review her books (and I have no association with the author whatsoever) so I shall limit myself to declaring that this is as good as anything she has produced.

The story is multi-threaded with multiple plots designed to confuse Chaloner who is commanded by Clarendon to go investigate the poisoning of several fowl in St James Park. This is ostensibly so Clarendon's new "Marshall" - Gery - can command the investigation of the Post Office. Two plots abound there - "The Devilles Work" and blatant corruption of the accounts. What with Clarendon threatening to send Chaloner off to Russia pronto and a very nasty poison making the rounds coupled with exploding carts full of logs, our sleuth is having a difficult time. As usual the culprits and suspects are scattered from low society to high and this novel is concerned with the settling of old scores and the murky work of double and even triple agents.

What makes this one slightly different is that Gregory decides to send Chaloner's troublesome Hannah and servants off to Buckinghamshire to get them out of the way of her pen and we conclude with a postscript telling us that Tom is in serious trouble when he heads off to the Tsar with a changed set of missives and glass replacements for the jewels. It leaves us anticipating what is going to happen and wonder if Gregory is going to have Tom's next adventure outside London.

As ever, Gregory is a guilty pleasure; an author that demands a reader curl up in a wing-back chair next to a fire, have glass of wine in easy reach and then asks you to lose yourself in Tom's or Matthew's adventures for several hours. It's a "five stars and beyond" read. Every single time.

10/10 A five stars and beyond read.

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