Andrew Taylor has made a career out of historical thrillers and his latest book is a compelling dive into post-republic Britain. Many of us perhaps recall 1666 as the year of the 'great fire of London', a catastrophic event in the history of the nation, often taught in classrooms alongside the impact of the plague, for which the fire is frequently regarded as a partial antidote. However, I for one, am short on detail, the impact for the city of such an event, both logistically, but also for individual citizens. In this book, Andrew Taylor draws us onto street level, as the inhabitants of the capital struggle to dampen the flames, which raged for days and threatened to cause irreparable damage. It's an interesting and dynamic backdrop into which the author deftly inserts a tale of intrigue, murder and power-broking which sustains the returned king, amid turmoil and a nation recovering from the tensions evoked under Oliver Cromwell.
James Marwood and Catherine ('Cat') Lovett are the adult children of regicides - those who had been directly instrumental in the execution of the king's father in Whitehall. Their respective families had flourished under parliamentarian rule and extremist religious views that were tolerated. However, the return of the monarchy was to confer profound changes to the fortunes of their respective fathers and emburdened the children with the associated shame and guilt. The book traces their respective interwoven journeys and struggles to survive, thereby lifting a veil on the often brutal life in London at that time, the machinations of the state, society and the fluctuating fortunes of the aristocracy, political and lower classes.
In some ways there are intriguing and tangible parallels with today. The destruction of a major city creates a flood of refugees and it is the rich and powerful best placed to survive the tumult, with most choices. Still, amid the generalized mayhem and economic disaster, with the attendant winners and losers, Taylor has developed a compelling plot, which made this reader want to know how circumstances pan out for the central characters.
Top of the bestseller list for this genre for weeks, Taylor has clearly tapped into an appetite for fast-moving action and in spite of the historical context the quality of the writing and the strength of the characters gives this book broad appeal. Worth noting there are instances of violence in the book, but handled well by the author, in my view and in keeping with the unsanitized description of a great city convulsed by time and happenstance. Well worth reading.