The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor
A CITY IN FLAMES
London, 1666. As the Great Fire consumes everything in its path, the body of a man is found in the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral – stabbed in the neck, thumbs tied behind his back.
A WOMAN ON THE RUN
The son of a traitor, James Marwood is forced to hunt the killer through the city’s devastated streets. There he encounters a determined young woman who will stop at nothing to secure her freedom.
A KILLER SEEKING REVENGE
When a second murder victim is discovered in the Fleet Ditch, Marwood is drawn into the political and religious intrigue of Westminster – and across the path of a killer with nothing to lose…
1666, and London is still recovering after the Restoration of the Monarchy just six years earlier. The city is also in the grip of a terrible fire, and watching St Paul's burn is John Marwood, a lowly civil servant and the son of a Fifth Monarchist, wanted as a traitor. He stops a boy from rushing into the burning Cathedral, which is on the brink of collapse, and as he wraps his cloak around the shivering lad he discovers that it is actually a woman, but she runs off into the crowd, still wearing his cloak, and he loses sight of her.
The fire spreads, destroying everything in its path as the desperate Londoners try to stop it, and in the ruins of St Paul's, a body is recovered. At first it is believed that the man was simply a victim of the fire, but on examination it is found that the man has been murdered, and left with his thumbs tied behind his back. Marwood is tasked with identifying the corpse.
Meanwhile, in another part of London, the young woman has troubles of her own and is forced to flee the place she has called home since the death of her parents, or face the consequences of her actions there. Taken in by a kindly woman, Cat has to work for the first time in her life, but she is not unhappy.
As another murder victim is discovered it quickly becomes apparent that the Fifth Monarchists are not, as previously thought, now inactive, and Marwood and Cat's lives entwine, putting them both in grave danger as a consequence of their fathers' past deeds.
The time of the Great Fire of London is a fascinating period of history and so when this book was a Kindle 99p deal I thought I'd give it a go. I had heard of the author, but not read any of his works, so I didn't really know what to expect. What I got was a right rollicking adventure, told in two voices – those of John Marwood and Cat. At first it doesn't appear the two – a lowly civil servant with a reputation due to the actions of his father – and a woman from the gentry – have much in common, but as their lives converge the tensions rise. The book is so descriptive, but without being over the top or waffly, that it really brings London to life and I found that I couldn't put it down!
In previous years, this would have been a firm 5* book, but I am trying to be more subjective this year (I do find it hard to 'mark' books, especially at the start of the year). It may be promoted later on, but for now it's a definite 4 – I really enjoyed it.
The paperback edition is 496 pages long and is published by Harper. It was first published in 2016. The ISBN is 9780008119096.
4/5 (I really, really liked it!)
(Finished 18 February 2017)