Murder on High Holborn by Susanna Gregory

(9.5/10)

At the heart of this latest Chaloner mystery is the idiom: "the love of money is the root of all evil"; throw in a lot of superstitious ghostly stories around Holborn coupled with a charlatan "warlock", a few ridiculous plots by the Fifth Monarchists, some inept spies and a mighty fine cake maker and you've got all the necessary ingredients for another fine Susanna Gregory novel.

Thomas is back from his swift departure in the last novel to Russia. As predicted, his ship foundered in the ice and he lost all the jewels and missives from his master, the Earl of Clarendon - which provides Gregory a neat segue into this mystery when we open with the sinking of Admiral Lawson's ship, the 'London', in the Thames.

A temporary triumvirate of Clarendon, Prince Rupert and Spymaster Williamson order Thomas to investigate immediately after he's tasked with finding out who killed Paul Ferrine at Temperance's Gentlemans' Club. The former are concerned only to uncover treasonous plots now England is at war with the Dutch, the latter is trying to restore her club's good name. Unfortunately for Thomas he also has to infiltrate the Fifth Monarchists - who are espousing an Easter Day plot to blow up London - alongside the hugely inept spy William Leving. He does so as a gunpowder expert, replacing the dead previous incumbent of the post. On the plus side it does give him fair excuses to keep missing Hannah's pickled ling pie even if he does "feel like the worst kind of coward".

Into the seedy mix comes John Scott, self-professing Cartographer Royal; Lambe, the court mystic who specializes in both a fierce charisma, parlour tricks, and the help of Alice Fanshaw. A combination that predicts dire events that insidiously come to pass through all-too-human, nefarious deeds.

There is the Baptist Pastor, Nat Strange; the dissident, Roger Jones; a graveman, Manning; a drunk cannon maker, Sherwin; the watchmaker, Richard Quelch; a stockinger, John Atkinson - who is in a relationship with the baker, Ursula Adman; and a prostitute named Snowflake (far better than her real name of Consti Pate). The usual cast of characters ably assist with the narration - I do like the development of Wiseman as Tom's friend, even if he's a blatant reincarnation of Michael from Gregory's "Bartholomew" mysteries. There's also a nice cameo from Samuel Pepys, "navy clerk and member of the Tangier Committee".

The mystery is nicely confounding. It always is with Gregory - her puzzles are akin to the Times Crossword compared to other authors out there producing efforts that would only garnish "The Sun". This time we have plots with silver cannon, ideals of the 'Last Millennium', and a case of three hundred dead sailors to answer for. Everything to be neatly wrapped up in seven days; something Tom desperately needs to do with his wife's mounting debts and the brilliant idea Clarendon has to "fire" him so he can inveigle his way in with the conspirators - nonsalaried, of course.

Susanna Gregory remains my favourite current author; all other novels stop mid-read when one is available and the fact she is so prolific makes it almost a guilty pleasure to curl up in an armchair and ignore the world whilst being treated either to Plague Cambridge or Restoration London. Simply brilliant... long may it continue.

Murder on High Holborn by Susanna Gregory‏
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Sphere (16 Oct 2014)

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