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The Westminster Poisoner
Chaloner’s Fourth Exploit in Restoration London

by Susanna Gregory

     It is Christmas and after several years under Puritan rule, people are enjoying the restoration not only of the monarchy, but of a festive holiday season.  But some people are less keen and are doggedly working; Christopher Vine for example, a clerk in the Treasury, and James Chetwynd, another clerk in Chancery.  Both were hard at work late in the evening when they were poisoned, and now the Earl of Clarendon wants to catch whodunit before anybody else dies.  He also wants the King’s expensive missing stature of Charles I found, and has hired a new spy to help discover the culprits.  Unfortunately, whoever gets the answers first gets kept on his staff, whereas the loser gets fired.  Chaloner is going to have to work fast if he is going to unmask the guilty parties before Twelfth Night.

Ms Gregory’s distinctive mix of hectic comedy, bizarre characters and bodies galore killed in a variety of inventive ways is surely a must for a holiday read.  Discover how Christmas and New Year were celebrated 400 years ago at the court of Charles II, up for all kinds of decadence after years of exile.  The feverish atmosphere of the early years of the Restoration is evoked rather well in this series, and as usual the note at the back mentions which parts of the story are based on actual events.  The joy of series as they get longer is not only a new plot to read about but also finding out what all the usual characters are up to.  Chaloner has a lover, he gets on the wrong side of Williamson more than once, and the oddly unreal figure of his mentor Thurloe continues to appear too sweet for Cromwell’s spymaster.  As usual this is a tubby tome that could do with losing a bit of weight and you, too, may well think that Clarendon is right when he says that it takes Chaloner a long time to solve his cases.  There is always something going on however, and towards the end it does get fairly exciting as the chase heats up to find the villains.  If you enjoy Ms Gregory’s unique style this is a good example of it.

Reviews of other titles in this series

A Conspiracy of Violence
Blood On The Strand
The Butcher of Smithfield
The Westminster Poisoner
A Murder on London Bridge
The Body in the Thames

The Book

Sphere (Little, Brown)
4 December 2008
1847441009 / 9781847441003
Historical Crime / 1663 London
More at US || UK
NOTE: Holiday read: Christmas & New Year

The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2009
© 2009