In order to fully appreciate The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor, you need to read The Ashes of London first. Otherwise, references and subtleties will pass you by. This is definitely a trilogy to read in order. The threats and risks are not always clear on the page and I had a couple of ‘oh, now I get it’ moments. But as with the first book, Taylor writes about post-Fire London with all the smoke, heat and rotting smells vivid on the page.
The first chapter sets up the central mystery to be solved. James Marwood’s elderly confused father wanders in the city and follows a woman he believes to be Rachel, his deceased wife. He is brought home by a kindly roadsweeper. Marwood listens to his father’s confused ramblings and fears his wits are disappearing. The next day, Nathaniel Marwood is dead and his son attempts to recreate his father’s movements to see if there was truth in his ramblings; into the heart of the rookery at Clifford’s Inn to see if there really is a chamber of the ant and inside it, a sinful woman. Instead he meets an objectionable man called Gromwell.
Two women are key to Marwood’s story. Jemima, Lady Limbury, stays close to the house and struggles to be familiar with her husband Philip who is busy with affairs of business. Except the wealth of the marriage belongs to Jemima and Philip unfortunately lets money slip through his fingers. Jemima dislikes the company he keeps, particularly a slimy lascivious man called Gromwell. The second woman is Catherine Lovett, my favourite character from The Ashes of London. We first see her sitting in the chamber at the Fire Court, the chamber set up to resolve legal, property and construction issues between freeholders, leaseholders and tenants with the aim of rebuilding London fast. Cat is taking shorthand notes, practicing her skill, though really she longs to design buildings for her mentor, the infirm Simon Hakesby. Jemima and Cat do not meet for most of the novel when the two sides of the mystery finally become entangled. I admit to being impatient about this, I found Jemima’s storyline less than captivating though at the end I wished I had grasped her significance a little earlier. Taylor’s novels move fast but are dense with detail and I need to read both these books again before attempting the third.
At the centre of the story is the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. Amongst the rubble there is destitution, opportunity, greed and hopelessness. It is a toxic mix, a dangerous place in which to start asking awkward questions. Which is exactly what James Marwood does. In the first book he was asking questions for two masters, in The Fire Court he seeks answers to his father’s puzzle. And when his life is in danger, he realises there must truth woven in his father’s nonsense words after all.
No word yet on when book three will follow, but I will definitely be reading it. Taylor is a new author for me and I look forward to exploring his other books. He is a historical writer rich in his period but with the twists and turns of a thriller. He creates mysteries that you want to puzzle out.
Read my review of The Ashes of London.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE FIRE COURT by Andrew Taylor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3re via @SandraDanby