Fourth in the 17th century crime series by Andrew Taylor, The Last Protector sees the return to London of Richard, Oliver Cromwell’s son, and last Protector of England before the restoration of the king in 1660. And it also heralds the central plot return of Cat Lovett. Ever since the first book in the series, I have waited for Cat to have a key role in the plot again.
The story begins as James Marwood, clerk to the Under secretary of State to Lord Arlington, is sent to secretly observe a duel between two lords. Meanwhile Cat, now Mistress Hakesby and married to a frail elderly architect, meets a childhood acquaintance in the street. This is Elizabeth Cromwell, daughter of Richard. Remembering their friendship as a fleeting thing, Cat is confused by Elizabeth’s eagerness to rekindle their relationship. Until, visiting Elizabeth at her godmother’s house, she is introduced to a fellow guest John Cranmore. But a peculiar habit of tapping a finger on the table brings back memories for Cat, to the time when she and her father moved in elevated political circles, and she realizes Cranmore is a false name. Elizabeth, it becomes clear, is seeking a precious object hidden by her grandmother. The object is hidden in the Whitehall sewers beneath The Cockpit, site of the cockfighting pit, theatre and jumble of additional buildings. The Hakesbys have the architectural drawings and Elizabeth needs Cat’s help to instigate her search.
In the bigger picture, Easter holiday riots attacking brothels seem to be politically motivated. Holidays are notorious times for brawls by apprentices, but these riots by the Levellers seem encouraged by bawdy newssheets of questionable origin. The Levellers shout ‘we have been servants, but we will be masters now’. Marwood is attacked and chased around the back alleys of the City while Cat, helping Elizabeth retrieve the mysterious package, is chased and escapes with the help of Ferrus, a mazer scourer, the lowest of the low who clears blockages in the sewers.
Marwood and Cat share little page time but their separate stories and chases become entwined as the troublesome history of Cat’s dissenter father puts her in grave danger. And affecting everything are the political machinations and arguments between crown and government.
An excellent page-turner.
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THE LAST PROTECTOR by @AndrewJRTaylor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4tI via @SandraDanby