Book review: The Piccadilly Plot by Susanna Gregory

Restoration London is a dangerous place for a former Parliamentarian spy, but who better to brazen it out than the wily Thomas Chaloner?

Friday, 17th February 2012, 6:00 am

The Piccadilly Plot is Susanna Gregory’s seventh novel featuring Queen Katherine of Bragnaza’s trusty turncoat whose adventures and misadventures have become cult reading for fans of historical crime novels.

The books excel in their clever plotlines and the remarkable evocation of the teeming, malodorous and dangerous streets of 17th century London and the restless, factional court of Charles II.

Gregory always creates a cast of well-drawn characters, some real and some fictional, using a crisp, lively dialogue and an intriguing mystery to keep the pages turning.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Her understanding and knowledge of the Restoration period helps her to bring to life the capital city and its people as well as creating a story that is both exciting and authentic.

In 1664, the royal House of Stuart has been restored, Charles II is on the throne ... but all is not well behind the palace doors at White Hall.

Plots abound and when the resourceful ‘intelligencer’ Thomas Chaloner is summoned back to London from an investigation into corruption he is conducting in Tangier, he witnesses the assassination of the ship’s captain on the quayside in Queenhithe.

Still, he is relieved to be home and to be reunited with his new wife Hannah who is a lady-in-waiting to the king’s wife Queen Katherine.

The reason he has been summoned by his vain and selfish master, the Earl of Clarendon, seems annoyingly trivial – the theft of building materials from the site of Clarendon’s opulent new residence near Piccadilly.

But when death threats are made against Clarendon’s self-important architect Roger Pratt, it becomes increasingly likely that they may be linked to the thefts.

Chaloner finds himself thrown into investigations involving murder, a stolen corpse and a scheme to frame the Queen for treason. Yet, as he delves deeper into the mysteries, it seems there are connections from all of them which can be traced back to the unfinished Clarendon House and to events on the north African coast...

The Piccadilly Plot sees Gregory at her very best ... a nail-biting plot featuring codes, corpses and corruption is perfectly offset by moments of wry comedy.

The prickly relationship between Chaloner and Clarendon never fails to entertain ... the gentleman spy needs a job, and his master needs the former Cromwellian’s unorthodox skills which help to keep one step ahead of any rivals.

Plenty of laughs, suspense and surprises in this exciting new Chaloner chapter...

(Sphere, hardback, £19.99)