Harper Collins UK|5 April 2018|448 p|e-book |Review copy|5*
I loved Andrew Taylor’s The Ashes of London so I was eagerly looking forward to the next book, The Fire Court set in 1667, eight months after the Great Fire had swept through London. And once again I was immediately transported back in to the 17th century as Londoners set about rebuilding the city.
It continues the story of James Marwood, working for Master Williamson, under-secretary to the Secretary of State, and of Cat (Catherine) Lovett, whose father, Thomas Lovett, was one of the Regicides of Charles I. It is a standalone novel – you don’t have to have read The Ashes of London to enjoy this book, but I think it helps to understand the background if you do.
James’s father, Nathaniel who was a Fifth Monarchist, an extreme Puritan sect, suffers from dementia. The book begins as Nathaniel follows a women he believes is his dead wife and finds a murdered woman. James thinks it is just a product of his deluded mind but when Nathaniel is killed in an accident, run over by a wagon he feels guilty for not believing him. And then a witness to his father’s death tells him that he had seen Nathaniel coming out of an alley leading into Clifford’s Court where the Fire Court was sitting. And the more James thinks about this and makes inquiries, particularly into the work of the Fire Court, he becomes convinced that his father had been telling him the truth
The Fire Court was set up to settle disputes between landowners and tenants as the work of rebuilding and developing London gets underway. Cat, now going under the name of Jane Hakesby works for Simon Hakesby, a surveyor and architect and both are involved in the work of the Fire Court. As you would expect these disputes are complicated and open to intrigue and dishonesty at all levels. James renews his acquaintance with Cat, a spirited independent young woman, and they work together as James tries to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding his father’s death and the identity of the murdered woman.
In fact this is one of the most satisfyingly complicated books I’ve read recently, equally as absorbing as The Ashes of London, once again weaving fact and fiction into a complete whole. I love it. Taylor’s research is impressive, bringing to life the complexities of Restoration England, drawing in all levels of society from Charles II, the aristocracy, politicians, to the ordinary people and those living in poverty. I particularly liked all the details of the work of the Fire Court and how London was rebuilt – and once again there is a fire – not as widespread geographically as the Great Fire, but dramatic and with devastating results for James.
Many thanks to Harper Collins for a review copy via NetGalley.