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The devastating fire of London in 1666 is the vivid backdrop to two main interweaving stories involving the daughter, Catherine Lovett, of a fugitive regicide, and those hunting him down. An atmosphere of fear pervades the time as the return of the monarchy threatens the Puritans, particularly the Fifth Monarchists who still strove to replace the monarchy by King Jesus. Caught in the middle is James Marwood, a government clerk who is enlisted to help with the investigation of a murdered man found in the ruins of St Paul’s cathedral.
More murders are discovered and a complex web of deceit unfolds that links Catherine and Marwood. Many additional characters are introduced, both real and imagined, whose actions contribute to this gripping novel mixing historical fact with intriguing fiction.
It took me a while to get into the story. I actually listened to the first 5 chapters twice, but after I became familiar with the main players I couldn’t stop listening eager to hear what happened to them.
The narrator does a first class job of dramatizing the story.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful
I picked this title not because of Andrew Taylor's awards for historical crime writing, but because it's read by Leighton Pugh. Having spent the first three months of last year mesmerised by Pugh's fantastic 116-hour unabridged narration of Samuel Pepys' Diary on Naxos (downloadable on Audible), I thought The Ashes of London set in Pepys' time read by Leighton Pugh had got to be a winner. And it is!
The backdrop is the Fire of London which has reduced the city around St Paul's to ashes amongst which James Marwood finds a dead body: not surprising, except that this one has had his thumbs tied together before being murdered. It is his job to uncover the crime. The ashy mud of the ruins still smouldering in places made me think of Lady Macbeth's prayer for the 'dunnest smoke of hell' to hide her regicide: in the same way the ash in this taut crime mystery is a cloak for murder and intrigue, a cover for eaves droppers and informants in these dangerous times of the Restoration. These are violent times and there are more murders and more deceit and cover-up.
No-one can be trusted - in politics, at court, in the ashy ruins picked over by desperate poor people- and least of all by blood relatives. Marwood is in danger because his father is a hunted regicide and young Cat Lovett, the parallel main character whose life becomes entwined dangerously with Marwood's, has fled following a scene of violence from the man she loathes whom her guardian uncle is forcing her to marry.
There are some magnificent filmic scenes throughout: Marwood's haunting memories of King Charles l's bleeding head held aloft at his execution, which he witnessed as a boy; the terrifying pursuit through stone passages to the roof-tops of St Paul's overlooking the devastation below which ends in more violence. A man is murdered whilst riding with his hounds, a man mistrusted by Cat. Why do the dogs wag their tails and not savage the murderer lurking in the bushes? The whole novel is intensely alive, teeming with visual and sensory detail, the historical background woven in seamlessly to heighten the tense atmosphere of threat, plot and intrigue.
And with his range of voices, mood and pace, Leighton Pugh drives forward the whole story in all its complexities. Definitely a winner!
13 of 14 people found this review helpful
I enjoy historical fiction and I loved the setting of this story in London just after the Great Fire; it whet my appetite to learn more about the reconstruction of the city. I’ve visited London numerous occasions and I know that most of Wren’s vision for the new city never came to pass, but I don’t know why… I’m looking forward to reading more on the topic.
The story in this book was very entertaining, and I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I was better able to keep track of who was who! (I’m terrible at remembering names). I really appreciated the author’s style: fluid and descriptive enough that I got a good feeling for what life was like in late 17th century London, and yet he didn’t drone on about every last detail so I still got to use my imagination to build up the world in my mind.
Great story! I can easily recommend it.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
If you enjoy historic novels you will really enjoy this one. Taking place in the ashes of London after the Great Fire of 1666 the mystery just keeps getting deeper and deeper. Well developed characters intertwine with historic events and some of the real players even make an appearance. The fire rid London of many of the rats that brought the plague to its' people but not all of them got fried by the fire.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful