THE ASHES OF LONDON is a historical fiction murder mystery by Andrew Taylor set in 1666 around the time of the great fire of London. This was also a time of political turmoil. Charles II is on the throne after the demise of Oliver Cromwell, but many still hope to see the permanent overthrow of the monarchy. One of the main groups involved in the execution of Charles I were the Fifth Monarchists and some of them were still being hunted.
James Marwood is the son of a Fifth Monarchist. His father spent time in prison which hastened his dementia. He is now free but physically and mentally fragile and often unable to control his treasonable ranting. James works for the government while trying to keep his father under control.
Cat Lovett is also the child of a Fifth Monarchist but her father Thomas is still on the run and active in plots against the government. Cat would love to be an architect and has the skill and intelligence, if only women were allowed. She lives with a rich uncle who wants her married for his own political and financial gain.
Cat would like to break away from both her father and uncle and is prepared to do whatever it takes to live her own life.
After the fire, a murdered body is discovered in the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral. Shortly after, another similarly murdered body is found. Thomas Lovett is suspected and Marwood is sent to search for answers, partly because of his connections through his father. Meanwhile Cat has gone missing and her aunt wants Marwood to find her.
As Marwood searches for answers he must play off different political groups while trying to keep himself and his father safe. Some of the people he is looking for are the very people who could cause him trouble.
What he eventually finds is way beyond what anyone, from the King down, could have expected.
The brilliance of this novel was in the characters and the vividness of the setting. All of the characters from the main ones (Marwood and Cat) down to those who only appeared briefly were very real with the minimum of stereotyping.
The descriptions of London during and after the fire were so good that I could almost smell the smoke and ash and the heights of St Paul’s had me squirming.
Andrew Taylor is an absolute master at bringing his novels to life.
Marwood’s and Cat’s stories felt a bit unfinished and I’m pleased that they will return in THE FIRE COURT.
Book Published 2016