The Ashes of London

  • by Andrew Taylor
  • Narrated by Leighton Pugh
  • 12 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the number one best-selling author of The American Boy and The Silent Boy comes a brand-new historical thriller set during the time of the Great Fire of London. The first of an exciting new series of novels.
London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul's is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer and reluctant government informer.
In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul's, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man's body has been mutilated, and his thumbs have been tied behind his back. Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters - and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

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What the Critics Say

"The Ashes of London is the book we all dream of writing and of reading: a crime thriller that pushes the pages over with effortless ease, while at the same time weaving an intricate, delicate, delight of a tapestry that draws us into a time and place that are so rich, so perfectly balanced that we walk alongside the characters, inhabit their shoes, feel their fear and taste their hope, all written in Andrew Taylor's beautiful hand-crafted prose. This is a book to revel in, a joy and a delight. Definitely one of the must-reads of the year." (Manda Scott, best-selling author of the Boudica Dreaming series)
"Praise for Andrew Taylor: Taylor mastery of plot and character show to great effect in a story that has a depth few other historical crime novels can match." (Sunday Times)
"As a writer, Taylor wears his learning lightly and shares with Hilary Mantel the capacity to take the reader directly into a vanished world." (Times Literary Supplement )

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A riveting historical novel

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.
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- Kirstine

Mystery and murder in 'the dunnest smoke of hell'

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!


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- Rachel Redford

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-04-2016
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Limited