The Drowned City by KJ Maitland is first in the Daniel Pursglove historical crime series. Maitland is a new author for me and the premise is fascinating. After the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, King James I is nervous of Catholic rebellion. Pursglove is plucked from prison and offered amnesty if he tracks down an elusive Catholic conspirator, Spero Pottingar, believed to be in Bristol. While there, Daniel must also prove if the recent deadly Bristol flood was a natural disaster or witchcraft. I enjoyed the Jacobean setting, unusual in historical crime novels, but found it slow to get going. Daniel’s introduction – we first meet him imprisoned in Newgate – is negative. Why he’s imprisoned isn’t explained, nor do we learn about his life prior to being locked up. But we do know he’s a magician and this sleight of hand proves useful as the story unfolds. I finished the book with no clear idea who Daniel Pursglove is.
The description of the Bristol flooding – a true event – is well done, visceral and moving. Death, destruction, disease, loss of livelihood. Maitland doesn’t spare the reader in her descriptions of violence and rotting corpses. People simply disappeared – drowned, safely embarked on a ship before the flood, or slipped away to start afresh somewhere new. Daniel has no idea if Pottingar is a real person or an invention. He may be in Bristol, have fled, or never been there at all. This gives wonderful opportunities for fictional twists and turns and when the twist came at the end, I was surprised.
The Drowned City is steeped in historical detail but at the expense of plot and character development, possibly because this is the first in the series. More is sure to be unveiled in further books but as the first book, this failed to keep me interested. Daniel’s reason for being in Bristol got lost at times in detailed description and the convoluted factions, with so many clues and red herrings that I got lost and the tension left the page. The middle section was particularly slow.
So, not a page-turner for me but if you like dense historical crime mysteries it may suit you.
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