Title: THE ASHES OF LONDON
Author: Andrew Taylor
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2016
Genre: Historical | Murder-Mystery
London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St Paul’s is reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a traitor, and reluctant government informer.
In the aftermath, the body of a man is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s. But he had not died in the blaze – there is a stab wound to his neck and his thumbs have been tied behind his back. Acting on orders, Marwood hunts the killer through London’s devastated streets … where before too long a second murder is uncovered.
At a time of dangerous internal dissent, Marwood’s investigation will lead him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined and vengeful young woman.
WHAT I THOUGHT
THE ASHES OF LONDON is well plotted murder-mystery set amid the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, in 1666, and the political turmoil following the Civil War. Wherein a number of the ‘Fifth Monarchists’ continue to fan the flames of sedition long after the failed Commonwealth in the belief they can still bring about the installation of King Jesus; And a heaven on earth.
The intertwining threads of this story are seen through the eyes of the two main characters: James Marwood, caring for his aging father who’s suffering from the onset of dementia. This young man’s struggle is heartfelt; living down his father’s past while trying to make a living for them both, he’s caught in a web of lies, secrets, and betrayal while longing for a quiet ordinary life.
Catherine ‘Cat’ Lovett is the daughter of a fugitive ‘Regicide’ who, while in the care of her Aunt and Uncle, is raped by their son Edward. Throw in the fact that her Uncle has arranged a marriage of convenience and sold Cat’s inheritance to his own benefit, you can understand why she takes matters into her own hands. Not to spoil the reveal, Cat has her revenge but with devastating consequences for her, and those around her.
Andrew Taylor has fully fleshed out this unlikely pair, who carry quite the burden between them, both seemingly doomed by their fanatical fathers. Historical fact is blended seamlessly with fiction, blurring the lines with enough detail that brings every scene to life, so much so, you can almost smell smoke in the air. All of Taylor’s characters are true to their nature, and the age in which they live in, displaying the foibles and failings of the times. And in the case of Marwood—this wonderfully drawn character—there’s also a sense of duty and courage despite his situation and station in life.
All in all, a thoroughly engrossing read. I read this one in less than two days sucking up every last detail, learning a great deal along the way I didn’t already know, about this period in history. I highly recommend this one whether you are into historical fiction, or not. Well drawn, fully-fleshed out, plenty of intrigue and action, and a cast of characters Shakespeare or Marlowe might have conceived and written about.
Rating: 8.5 / 10