Book Review Historical

The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor

Book Summary

New York is a city of secrets, profiteers, loyalists and double agent, where loyalty is a commodity like any other. Manhattan in 1778, during in the American War of Independence, is surrounded by the French fleet and the rebel armies, and packed with refugees seeking justice from the British crown.

Edward Savill is sent from London to investigate the claims of dispossessed loyalists. No sooner does he land than he becomes embroiled in the case of a gentleman murdered in the city’s notorious Canvas Town. 

Lodging with the respected Wintour family, Savill senses the mystery deepening. Judge Wintour’s beautiful daughter-in-law, Arabella, hides a tragedy in her past, while his son plans a dangerous mission into enemy territory. And what of Mr Noak, the enigmatic clerk seemingly bent on a dubious course of his own?

While Andrew Taylor beautifully evokes the stifled atmosphere of New York City under siege during the War of Independence (also referred to as the ‘Revolutionary War’). And gives us a plausible enough character in the guise of Mr. Edward Savill, a clerk for the American Office based in London. The over-all arcing storyline could have done with some judicious (if not) ruthless editing to bring the unwieldily mess into a more manageable read. As it stands, The Scent of Death meanders all over the place, so much so, that at one point I had to abandon my reading.

It wasn’t so much from boredom, as tedium from an over abundance of exposition and story lines, that could have, IMHO, been a little more succinct and to the point. It’s one thing to describe a place, in detail, and evoke a sense of being there, and then, quite another to drown the reader in minutia. 

That isn’t to say I didn’t, in the end, enjoy this historically set mystery, just that I would have liked to have arrived at its conclusion a lot faster than I did. Especially as at the latter stages of Savill’s journey of discovery, it feels like the author suddenly rushed the ending, in comparison that went before. 

That said, the characters were, for the most part, well-drawn and delineated. As was the setting, from the gritty, realistic brutality of Canvas Town, down to the rest of the city struggling under shortages.

Much of the intrigue and mystery of the novel is centred around the Wintour family which Savill is lodging with, rather than the war itself. But this too suffers from a meandering narrative that fails to deliver any real surprises at the book’s end. 

All in all, while The Scent of Death may be well researched and accurate in certain detail, it suffers from glacial pacing and unsympathetic characters who lacked any emotional depth to make the mystery worth bothering about.

Andrew Taylor
HarperCollins, 2013
Paperback, 498 pages
Historical Fiction | Murder-Mystery

6 comments on “The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor

  1. Avatar

    Impatient much Alexandra? Lol. I am joking , I get your point here!

    • Alex

      Ha! Ha! You know what it’s like reading lengthy books. It can be frustrating because the story gets lost in amongst too much detail.

  2. Avatar

    To quote another blogger, seems like the author took a paragraph to write what he could have said in a sentence. Pity, the cover is amazing, and I would have liked to read about the “stifled” atmosphere of NYC…

    • Alex

      That was the only drawback to reading this one. The author did indulge in details to the detriment of the read, otherwise I would have rated this one higher. But that isn’t to say it isn’t a good read, it’s still a cut above many as long as you know going in that it meanders. Otherwise, enjoy!

  3. Avatar

    I love richly detailed worlds but there’s a point where it’s just *too* much. I start getting distracted and end up wandering off to read something else, lol.

    • Alex

      Exactly. This was great up to a point, but it meandered all over the countryside and took me ages to read because of that. Which was a shame really.

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