An Air that Kills by Andrew Taylor

An Air That Kills is the first book in Andrew Taylor’s in his Lydmouth crime series. I’ve read several of his other books and thoroughly enjoyed them, but none in this series.  It has a slow beginning but once it had established the characters and set the scene the pace picks up. The setting is Lydmouth, a small market town on the Welsh/English border just after the end of the Second World War.

It begins as journalist, Jill Francis arrives to stay with her friends, Philip and Charlotte in Lydmouth, to recover from a bad experience – the details are are only revealed later in the book.  Also new to the town is Inspector Richard Thornhill, who is finding it difficult to adjust to working in the local police force. There’s been a spate of burglaries and there are whispers that a black marketeer is heading to their area. So there is plenty going on and then workmen digging out a drain discover a wooden box containing baby’s bones, an old brooch and some scraps of yellowed newspaper. When Major Harcutt, the local historian was consulted he found that there could be a connection to an old murder trial. 

Harcutt is elderly, living on his own and estranged from his daughter, Antonia. But when he is involved in a road accident and is then burgled Charlotte contacts Antonia and she reluctantly returns home to help him. Meanwhile, Jill is persuaded to help Inspector Thornhill in his investigation into the mystery of the baby’s bones.

It’s a good mix of police investigation, and personal stories, including those of Richard and Jill, of Jill and Philip and Charlotte, of Harcutt and his daughter, and the burglar and the black marketeer.  There is a strong sense of time and place – I thought the 1950s setting was well done. I enjoyed the interaction between the characters and and will definitely read on in the series to see how the relationship between Jill and Richard develops.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1382 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; New Ed edition (13 Sept. 2012)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating 4*

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor

London, 1668 – A dangerous secret lies beneath Whitehall Palace…

The Last Protector

HarperCollins|2 April 2020|419 pages|ebook |Review copy via NetGalley|4*

The Last Protector is the fourth book in Andrew Taylor’s series featuring James Marwood, a government agent and Cat (Catherine) Lovett, set in Restoration England. The year is 1668 and the exiled Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver, heavily in debt, has returned in disguise to England.

Charles’ extravagant life style and licentious behaviour has now lost him the support of the people and many are hankering after the old days under Oliver Cromwell and then his son, Richard as Lord Protectors. He needs Parliament to vote him the funds to pay off his debts, maintain his court and fund the expansion of the navy and is relying on the Duke of Buckingham for support. However Marwood’s masters suspect that Buckingham is secretly conspiring against the King and assign him to spy on him. 

Cat, a regicide’s daughter, is married to Simon Hakesby, an elderly and ailing surveyor and architect. She knew Richard’s daughter Elizabeth as a child and finds herself drawn into the Cromwells’ plan to recover a package Richard’s mother had hidden in the Cockpit in the gardens of the Palace of Whitehall just before her death; a package Richard hopes would be sufficient to clear his debts. He turns to the Duke of Buckingham for support in gaining access to the Cockpit. Buckingham is keen to use Richard in his plans to gain power. Cat, who now is unhappy in her marriage, resentful of Simon’s demands on her, is reluctant to get involved but unfortunately for her Simon is eager to help, and they soon find themselves in great danger. She is reluctant to ask for Marwood’s help fearing they could be charged with treason.

Like the earlier books in the series this is a gripping story, full of historical detail, complications, intrigue and danger. The characterisation is brilliant with memorable characters such as Ferrus, a mazer-scourer’s labourer, who lives a terrible life, forced to sleep in a kennel with Windy, a vicious dog that guards the kitchen yard at the Cockpit. Treated brutally by his master, Ezra Reeves, his job is to clean the sewers. He is starved so he can squeeze himself down unto the foul stinking mess of the sewers, bending his long thin arms and legs. The stench of London comes across very vividly in this novel. Then there is Chloris, the kind-hearted prostitute, who helps Marwood. 

This is a book full of action too, with a swiftly moving plot and a climatic ending. It is full of suspense and surprises. Andrew Taylor is a supreme storyteller, combining fact and fiction – his novels are full of historical details that slot seamlessly into his stories.

I’ve read all  the earlier books and loved them too – The Ashes of London (set in 1666, six years after Charles II was reinstated as King) and The Fire Court (set in 1667, eight months after the Great Fire of London), and The King’s Evil (set seven months later). It is not necessary to read the earlier books as I think they all work well as standalones, but I think it really helps if you do.

Many thanks to the publishers, HarperCollins for my review copy.

The King’s Evil by Andrew Taylor

London, 1667 – a royal scandal that could change the face of England forever…

The King's Evil

HarperCollins|4 April 2019|464 pages|Hardback |Review copy|5*

This is the third book in Andrew Taylor’s series following James Marwood and Cat (Catherine) Lovett. I loved the first two – The Ashes of London (set in 1666) and The Fire Court (set in 1667, eight months after the Great Fire of London), so I was delighted when Felicity Denham at HarperCollins asked me if I’d like a proof copy of The King’s Evil to review. It is not necessary to read the earlier books as I think they all work well as standalones, but I think it helps if you do.

The King’s Evil carries on from where The Fire Court ended. Seven years after the restoration of the monarchy it’s still a time of political and social change. Whilst Charles II still had immense power as the King a new middle class, both professional and administrative, was evolving. James Marwood is a government agent in Whitehall, working as a clerk for William Chiffinch, one of the commissioners of the Board of Red Cloth. Chiffinch was also Keeper of the King’s Private Closet and Page of the Backstairs, an important position as he controlled private access to the King. In addition Marwood also works under Joseph Williamson, the Undersecretary to the Secretary of State for the South, one of Charles’s most powerful ministers.

Charles had reinstated the ceremony of ‘touching for the King’s Evil’ as a demonstration of his divine right to rule – a ceremony in which the monarch touched those people suffering from scrofula, a disease, now known as  tuberculosis, that caused the swelling of the bones and lymphatic glands in the neck (the book cover illustrates the ceremony). It was believed that the King’s touch cured the disease.

The novel begins as Marwood is in the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall watching the ceremony. Chiffinch had told him to attend on the orders of the King to meet Lady Quincy and do whatever she commanded. Lady Quincy, accompanied by a small African child, her footboy suffering from scrofula, tells Marwood to meet her outside the church near the Tower of London. She also warns him that Edward Alderley, her step-son, is out for revenge on Cat Lovett because of what she had done to him. (This refers to events in The Fire Court). 

In order to keep her identity secret Cat, whose father had been one of the Regicides, is going by the name of Jane Hakesby. She had been working for Simon Hakesby, a surveyor and architect, on a garden pavilion project in the grounds of Clarendon House. Then Alderley is found dead in the well in the garden pavilion.

Marwood is asked to look into the circumstances of Alderley’s death, under the King’s authority. He decides to keep his connection with Cat to himself, whilst he tries to find out where she has gone and who was responsible for Adderley’s death. Was it an accident, was it suicide, or was it murder? After Chiffinch received an anonymous letter naming Cat as the murdererhe sent officers to arrest her, but she had disappeared. So this was taken as a confession of her guilt. Marwood was afraid that this could implicate him too if it became known that he had told her that Alderley knew her whereabouts.

In addition, Lord Clarendon is convinced that Alderley was involved in a conspiracy against him and also suspects that someone in his household is involved in the plot. He is out of favour with Charles, and had recently been removed from the office of Lord Chancellor.  But he’s still potentially politically powerful as his daughter is married to Charles’s brother, James, the Duke of York. His grandchildren, the Princesses Mary and Anne, are the next heirs in the line of succession if Charles remained childless.

Marwood tries to find Cat, and also escorts Lady Quincy to Cambridge on a secret mission. Eventually his investigation into Alderley’s death leads him to discover who is behind the plot against Clarendon, and also to uncover a potential royal scandal in which Lady Quincy and the Duke of Buckingham, one of Charles’s favourites who had supplanted Clarendon, play important roles. 

I loved the characterisation and all the details of the setting, bringing to life scenes at the royal court as well as in the refugee camps that housed the homeless as the work of rebuilding London continued. Andrew Taylor is a supreme storyteller, combining fact and fiction – his novels are full of historical details that slot seamlessly into his stories. The King’s Evil is historical fiction at its best, full of suspense and tension, an intricate and tightly plotted murder mystery, enhanced by the intrigue of a royal scandal. 

I loved it.

Many thanks to the publishers, HarperCollins for my review copy.

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor

Harper Collins UK|5 April 2018|448 p|e-book |Review copy|5*

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

Harper Collins UK|7 April 2016|497 p|e-book|Review copy|5*

New-to-Me Books from Barter Books

Barter Books in Alnwick was looking very festive yesterday with a Christmas tree made out of books. It’s my favourite bookshop, one of the largest secondhand bookshops in Britain with books galore, open fires and plenty of places to sit and peruse the books. (See this Picture Gallery for more photos)

I browsed the shelves to see which ones jumped out, shouting ‘read me’ And these are the books I brought home:

Where Roses Fade by Andrew Taylor – psychological crime fiction, one of his Lydmouth series, in which Mattie, a waitress drowns  – did she fall, or did she jump? Rumours circulate that her death wasn’t accidental – and then comes another death. I’ve read Andrew Taylor’s Roth trilogy, but none of his Lydmouth series.

You Made Me Late Again! by Pam Ayres – a collection of poems, anecdotes and short verses, covering a wide range of subjects from a nervous racehorse, a proud granny, to a dog reunited with his master at the Pearly Gates. I fancied some light relief after all the crime fiction I’ve been reading lately and this collection of witty poems appealed to me.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – a thriller set on a luxury cruise ship going to see the Northern Lights, a body overboard – but there are no missing passengers.  I was looking in the ‘W’s for a book by Louise Welsh (I didn’t find one I hadn’t read) but this book caught my eye. I haven’t read any of Ruth Ware’s books, but have seen her mentioned on other book blogs.

Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark – Would-be novelist Fleur Talbot works for Sir Quentin Oliver at the Autobiographical Association.  Mayhem ensues when scenes from Fleur’s novel-in-progress begin to come true with dangerous and darkly funny results. One of my favourite books is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, so I’m hoping to love this book too.

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale –  after an illicit affair Harry Cane, is forced to travel from Edwardian England to the town of Winter in Canada  to start a new life. I’m currently reading and enjoying Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, so when I saw this book on the shelf I had to get it.

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear – a Maisie Dobbs novel, set in 1932 when Maisie takes on an undercover assignment directed by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Secret Service. I like the Maisie Dobbs books and began reading the several years ago, but I haven’t kept up with the series. This one is book 8.

What I love about Barter Books is that it’s not only filled with thousands of books, but it works on the swap system – you bring in books, they make an offer for them and your credit can then be used for books to bring home. I’m in credit, so I didn’t have to pay anything for these books – brilliant! Plus, it’s in a lovely building that was Alnwick’s beautiful old Victorian railway station and you can get tea, coffee, hot food (I love their macaroni cheese) and cakes etc in the Station Buffet. Yesterday we were there early and David had a Bacon Buttie from the Breakfast Menu – I had some of it too.

My Friday Post: Call the Dying by Andrew Taylor

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week’s first paragraph is from Call the Dying by Andrew Taylor, crime fiction set in the 1950,  the seventh in Taylor’s Lydmouth series.

Call the Dying (Lydmouth, #7)

It begins:

 

I saw a ghost today. It was very foggy, I know, but I’m sure I wasn’t mistaken. He was coming through the door of Butter’s, and he looked like a ghost because of the fog. But he really was a ghost from a time that’s dead and gone.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 55 (page 56 is blank)

I’ve done nothing wrong. Not really. So it’s not fair. It’s as if everyone’s ganging up against me.

Or is it just me? Am I going mad? did I really see him?

I’m afraid. I’m lonely, too. Keep busy that’s the answer. Make my self tired. You don’t have time to feel afraid when you’re deadbeat, you just sleep instead.

I like the thought of sleeping. I can’t remember when I last had an unbroken night.

From the back cover:

Love and need make unexpected bedfellows, and both are blind. As the grip of a long hard winter tightens on Lydmouth, a dead woman calls the dying in a seance behind net curtains. Two provincial newspapers are in the throes of a bitter circulation war. A lorry-driver broods, and an office boy loses his heart.

Britain is basking in the warm glow of post-war tranquillity, but in the quiet town of Lydmouth, darker forces are at play. The rats are fed on bread and milk, a gentleman’s yellow kid glove is mislaid on a train, and something disgusting is happening at Mr Prout’s toyshop.

Returning to a town shrouded in intrigue and suspicion, Jill Francis becomes acting editor of the Gazette. Meanwhile, there’s no pleasure left in the life of Detective Chief Inspector Richard Thornhill. Only a corpse, a television set and the promise of trouble to come.

I bought this book a couple of years ago, keen to read it as I’d enjoyed Taylor’s Roth trilogy so much.

My Friday Post: The Scent of Death

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week’s book is a library book I’m thinking of reading. It’s The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor. I borrowed it because I’ve enjoyed some of his other books. It begins:

This is the story of a woman and a city. I saw the city first, glimpsing it from afar as it shimmered like the new Jerusalem in the light of the setting sun.

Synopsis:

August, 1778. British-controlled Manhattan is a melting pot of soldiers, traitors and refugees, surrounded by rebel forces as the American War of Independence rages on. Into this simmering tension sails Edward Savill, a London clerk tasked with assessing the claims of loyalists who have lost out during the war.

Savill lodges with the ageing Judge Wintour, his ailing wife, and their enigmatic daughter-in-law Arabella. However, as Savill soon learns, what the Wintours have lost in wealth, they have gained in secrets.

The murder of a gentleman in the slums pulls Savill into the city’s underbelly. But when life is so cheap, why does one death matter? Because making a nation is a lucrative business, and some people cannot afford to miss out, whatever the price’¦

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

You’re a thief, a damned pickpocket. There were two empty purses in your bundle. And those shoes you had on your feet – well they tell their own story don’t they?

I like the promise of this book – historical crime fiction set during the American War of Independence, a war about which I know only the briefest of details.

New-To-Me Books August 2015

Aug 15 bksAnother visit to Barter Books in Alnwick resulted in another pile of books to add to my TBR shelves.

From top to bottom they are:

  • The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter – to fill in my gaps in reading his Inspector Morse books. This is the 6th in the series – Inspector Morse isn’t sure what to make of the truncated body found dumped in the Oxford Canal. He suspects it may be all that’s left of an elderly Oxford don last seen boarding a London train days before.
  • Hangman’s Holiday and Other Stories by Dorothy L Sayers – the ninth in her Lord Peter Wimsey series, this includes  four Wimsey stories, six stories featuring Montague Egg (travelling salesman for Plummet & Rose, Wine & Spirits), and two more separate stories.
  • Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie – this is one of the last few books of hers I have yet to read. It’s historical crime fiction set in Egypt 4,000 years ago, written drawing on her experience of several  expeditions to the Middle East with her husband, Max Malloran, an eminent archaeologist.
  • The Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) – one of her psychological thrillers, described on the back cover as ‘a chilling tale of ambition, obsession and bad blood.‘ I still have a lot of Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell books to read.
  • Call the Dying by Andrew Taylor – I’m jumping into a series with this book as this is the 7th in the Lydmouth mysteries and I haven’t read any of the others. They are all are set in and around a fictional town on the Anglo-Welsh borders in the years after World War II.
  • The Secret Place by Tana French – the 5th in the Dublin Murder Mystery series. I read the first,  In the Woods a few years ago and liked its psychological elements and the twists and turns.  In this book Detective Stephen Moran investigates the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper when sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him a photo of Chris with the caption, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.
  • Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson – a complete change from crime fiction – a book I bought in Tescos for £1. It’s described on the book cover as  ‘a novel about love – love of women, love of literature, love of laughter. It shows our funniest writer at his brilliant best.‘ I felt like reading something different.

If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to know what you think about them.

The Office of the Dead

The Office of the Dead by Andrew Taylor is the third book in the Roth Trilogy. I read the first two, The Four Last Things and The Judgement of Strangers a couple of years ago and I wish I’d read this one straight afterwards, because I had to refresh my memory before I started The Office of the Dead.

It’s set in the 1950s, some twenty years earlier than The Judgement of Strangers, and completes the story of the Byfield and Appleyard families. I absolutely loved it. As it says on the back cover this is a chilling novel of crime and retribution. It works perfectly well on its own, but is even better if you’ve read the first two books. The way Andrew Taylor has constructed this trilogy, working backwards in time is just perfect.

Synopsis from Andrew Taylor’s website:

It’s 1958, and the party’s over for Wendy Appleyard: she finds herself penniless, jobless and on the brink of divorce. So she runs to her oldest friend Janet Byfield, who seems to have everything Wendy lacks: a handsome husband, a lovely little daughter, Rosie, and a beautiful home in the Cathedral Close of Rosington. David Byfield is on the verge of promotion, and Janet is the perfect wife for an ambitious young clergyman.

But perfection has always been dangerous, and gradually the idyll sours. Old sins come to haunt the present and breed new sins in their place. The shadow of death seeps through the Close, and with it comes a double mystery stretching back to turn-of-the-century Rosington, to a doomed poet-priest called Francis Youlgreave.

Only Wendy, the outsider looking in, glimpses the truth. But can she grasp its dark and twisted logic in time to prevent the coming tragedy?

My view:

The Office of the Dead answers many of the questions I had from the other two books – questions about David Byfield, the theologian who can barely control his emotions; Reverend Francis Youlgreave, the turn of the century canon librarian and poet, and most of all about Rosie, David and Janet’s daughter. In this book she is a small and very self absorbed little girl who has her 5th birthday during the course of the book. She calls herself ‘Nobody‘, because ‘Nobody’s perfect‘ and she can’t be parted from her doll, Angel.

There is also an excellent portrayal of senile dementia in Janet’s father – John Treevor. Janet says he is ‘getting a bit confused‘, but at times he was capable of acting perfectly rationally and at times not – which made it all the more difficult to know what was true and what only took place in his mind, and so all the more tense and sinister. Did John Treevor commit suicide or was he murdered and if so, was it the stranger he said was watching the house, or someone else?

Running alongside the story of the Byfields are several other inter-connecting strands, Wendy (who is the narrator) and her estranged husband, Henry; the man with the bald spot roughly the shape of a map of Africa, who is following Wendy – who is he working for and why is he interested in Canon Youlgreave. Youlgreave, a character from the past who had died in 1903? He is described by old Mrs Gotobed as a ‘good man‘, but he had been forced to resign after he had ‘lost all touch with reality ‘ and had caused a scandal.

In fact the overall mood of the book is about the difficulties in remembering, or is it twisting, the past, about mental breakdowns and about the effect the past had on the future. In that respect I think it’s best to read the books in order.

I’ve just seen that there is a new short story, €˜The Long Sonata of the Dead‘, about the continuing legacy of Francis Youlgreave, due to be published on Kindle on 1 April. I’m looking forward to reading it.

And then I’d like to read the first two books in reverse order and see what it effect that has on the story. There is so much more I could write about this book – about the characters (totally convincing), about the setting and the writing (well written etc) and about the pace – the creation of tension and suspense etc (just right), but really all I need to say is that I thought it was brilliant!