The Chelsea Strangler by Susanna Gregory

(9.3/10) The prose style satiating in its intellectual, descriptive, and thematic prowess

Susanna Gregory is back with her latest historical mystery featuring Thomas Chaloner. Hannah is dead, struck down by the plague (this is not a spoiler… Gregory tells us this in the opening prologue) and Tom finds himself a widower again with plenty of free time after the Battle of Lowestoft. London has become a ghost town; the King et al. have fled to the ‘safety’ of Hampton Court to avoid the Plague; Thomas’ employer, the Earl of Clarendon is about to follow suit until two swift strangulations – one in the Gorges Hospital for the Insane, one in his Whitehall townhouse prompt him to send both Tom and Kipps off to Chelsea to investigate… with a dearth of accurate information as is his wont. In his anti-plague-medicine-pack he’s got an option of treacle, tobacco or coffee.

The two go with Wiseman (who is to Tom as Michael is to Gregory’s other super sleuth – Matthew Bartholomew) and find themselves in a plot so complicated that it somehow manages to surpass Gregory’s usual weave of mystery. Someone is cavorting through Chelsea strangling people; the only witnesses tend to be mad, writing clues in despairingly cryptic fashion. There are petty thieves, a love interest, angry fishermen, raucous courtiers, secret prisoners, gold galore and a mysterious ‘ghost’ all prowling the Chelsea environs in convoluted attempts to mask their true intentions.

Tom’s got a headache here, and so have the readers. Whilst Tom might have “found he was rather looking forward to unearthing the secrets that this mismatched group hoped to hide from him”, there’s the problem of realising that  “the loss of the Treasury in its entirety would likely plunge the country into another civil war” and “he did not want to investigate a murder where the chief suspect was his friend’s wife”.

As usual, Gregory draws on historical personages to flesh out her narrative. We have the Treasury Commissioners: Bullen Reymes, William Doyley, John Evelyn, Thomas Clifford; Gorges is run by Mrs Bonney, Franklin and the overly-caffeinated Dr Parker ; then there is Underhill, Warwick Kole, Cocke, Dove and the overly opinionated, rabble rousing theologian – Rector Wilkinson. Everyone’s mendacious, everyone is sly, everyone has an agenda – all of which leads to merry murderous mayhem and plots to steal gold. Tom is forced to hide in dark places, to question people again and again, to accept help from the delightful Eleanore, and to engage in desperate fights to save himself, a hospital, and his country – none of which he’ll get much recognition for.

What does deserve recognition, as I have said in many reviews before, is the author’s exceptional literary skill. Restoration London is brought to vivacious life, real people from the time would be surprised to find their true memorials are in these books, the mysteries are never easy to unravel even if you are familiar with her novels, and the prose style satiating in its intellectual, descriptive, and thematic prowess. What makes it all so indelibly fine is the fact Gregory is so prolific.

Read this author with her forty-plus novels… you will never regret it.

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All reviews for Susanna Gregory's The Exploits of Thomas Chaloner series

A Conspiracy of Violence

The Exploits of Thomas Chaloner: Book 1 written by Susanna Gregory

The dour days of Cromwell are over. Charles II is well established at White Hall Palace, his mistress at hand in rooms over the Holbein bridge, the heads of some of the reg [...]

Published: 2006

Our rating: 9.1 | positive reader reviews

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The Cheapside Corpse

The Exploits of Thomas Chaloner: Book 10 written by Susanna Gregory

London in the spring of 1665 is a city full of fear. There is plague in the stews of St Giles, the Dutch fleet is preparing to invade, and a banking crisis threatens to lea [...]

Published: 2015

Our rating: 9.5 | positive reader reviews

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The Chelsea Strangler

The Exploits of Thomas Chaloner: Book 11 written by Susanna Gregory

In the sapping summer heat of 1665 there is little celebration in London of the naval victory at the Battle of Lowestoft. The King, his retinue and anyone with sufficient m [...]

Published: 2016

Our rating: 9.3 | positive reader reviews

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The Piccadilly Plot

The Exploits of Thomas Chaloner: Book 7 written by Susanna Gregory

Thomas Chaloner is relieved to be summoned back to London. His master, the Earl of Clarendon, has sent him to Tangier to investigate a case of corruption. Chaloner will be [...]

Published: 2012

Our rating: 9.0 | positive reader reviews

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Death in St James's Park

The Exploits of Thomas Chaloner: Book 8 written by Susanna Gregory

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 lad [...]

Published: 2013

Our rating: 10.0 | positive reader reviews

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Murder on High Holborn

The Exploits of Thomas Chaloner: Book 9 written by Susanna Gregory

In 1665 England is facing war with the Dutch and the capital is awash with rumours of conspiracy and sedition. These are more frenetic than normal because of the recent sin [...]

Published: 2014

Our rating: 9.5 | positive reader reviews

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More Susanna Gregory reviews

Mystery in the Minster

by Susanna Gregory

In 1358 the fledging college of Michaelhouse in Cambridge is in need of extra funds. A legacy from the Archbishop of York of a parish close to that city promises a welcome [...]

Series: The Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew #17
Published: 2011

Score: 95

Our rating: 9.5 | 0 positive reader reviews

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Murder by the Book

by Susanna Gregory

It is drawing near to the end of term, and the University at Cambridge is in turmoil over the opening of a new Common Library. There is an attack on one of the masters at a [...]

Series: The Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew #18
Published: 2012

Score: 90

Our rating: 9.0 | 0 positive reader reviews

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The Lost Abbot

by Susanna Gregory

In the summer of 1358 Matthew Bartholomew finds himself one of a party of Bishop's Commissioners, sent north to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the Abbot of [...]

Series: The Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew #19
Published: 2013

Score: 92

Our rating: 9.2 | 0 positive reader reviews

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Death of a Scholar

by Susanna Gregory

In the summer of 1358 the physician Matthew Bartholomew returns to Cambridge to learn that his beloved sister is in mourning after the unexpected death of her husband, Oswa [...]

Series: The Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew #20
Published: 2014

Score: 95

Our rating: 9.5 | 0 positive reader reviews

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A Poisonous Plot

by Susanna Gregory

In 1358, over a century after its foundation in Cambridge, the college of Michaelhouse is facing a serious shortfall of funds and competition from upstarts rivals such as Z [...]

Series: The Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew #21
Published: 2015

Score: 90

Our rating: 9.0 | 0 positive reader reviews

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A Grave Concern

by Susanna Gregory

Identifying the murderer of the Chancellor of the University is not the only challenge facing physician Matthew Bartholomew. Many of his patients have been made worse by th [...]

Series: The Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew #22
Published: 2016

Score: 90

Our rating: 9.0 | 0 positive reader reviews

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