Book review: The Body in the Thames by Susanna Gregory

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History, intrigue, suspense, atmosphere.

It’s little wonder that Susanna Gregory’s Restoration adventures featuring court spy Thomas Chaloner have a huge following and if you haven’t yet got in on the action, then now could be the perfect time.

The Body in the Thames is the sixth in Gregory’s immaculately researched and atmospheric Chaloner series but each is an entirely separate story and can be enjoyed on its own very worthy merits.

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

With a cast of well-rounded characters, some real and some fictional, a crisp, lively dialogue and a mystery to keep the pages turning, Gregory has the historical crime genre all sewn up.

London is sweltering in a heatwave in the summer of 1664 and in the corridors of power at White Hall the temperatures are also rising as an ill-conceived war with the Dutch threatens to become a reality.

Thomas Chaloner, once a spy for Cromwell but now in the employ of King Charles’s scheming Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Clarendon, has an inauspicious start to his marriage when an old acquaintance is murdered during the wedding ceremony.

There’s no time for Chaloner to investigate the bizarre stabbing because Dutchman Willem Hanse, brother-in-law of his first wife and a good friend, has disappeared during a peace mission to England and it’s essential that he finds him.

London is rife with violent aggression and hatred towards the Dutch while some courtiers and ministers mistakenly believe that a foreign campaign would help heal the rifts of the civil war and unite the country in a common cause.

Chaloner has already experienced the futility of war at first hand and has no wish to witness another.

When Hanse’s body is pulled from the Thames, Chaloner discovers the dead man had feared he might be murdered and left enigmatic clues sewn into his sock.

To make matters worse, secret and highly sensitive Privy Council papers are stolen from Clarendon’s office as the Dutch delegation gathers at a convention with English officials at the old Savoy Hospital.

All the clues are pointing to either a plot to steal the crown jewels or a conspiracy to ensure that there is no peace treaty.

Whichever it proves to be, Chaloner has very little time at his disposal and there are men so desperate to stop his enquiries that they are prepared to attack anyone who is close to him.

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

A superb book.

(Sphere, hardback, £19.99)