Bloody Deeds In Post-Fire London
The year is 1678 – twelve years after the Great Fire has left London’s heart in ruins, with the city still overlooked by the severed head of Oliver Cromwell. It’s a time when Titus Oates presented his wild-eyed evidence of a Popish plot, the great conspiracy to have King Charles II murdered. Catholic peers were arrested and London was on the alert for Papists lurking around every corner.
Into this maelstrom of rumour and accusation strides the great Robert Hooke, Curator of Experiments of the Royal Society, at the heart of London’s rebuilding, and his assistant Harry Hunt – the names are a little too similar to be easily separated, but Hook and Hunt are historical figures so we have to live with that. They become too deeply involved in the finding of small boys, dumped by the Fleet River and drained of blood while still alive.
Mercifully this is not a vampire tale but one of newly enlightened science, although it is only just moving out from beneath the dark shadows of the English Civil War. Resurrection and insurrection are blurred as the King himself is explosively targeted. Eyeing one of the dead boys preserved in a glass air pump he reminds us that ‘The truest microcosm is the womb of a mother.’ But this is where nature and science clash with belief…
It’s extremely difficult to pull off a historical crime novel that manages to be accurate enough, exciting enough and smart enough to satisfy as thoroughly as ‘The Bloodless Boy’, but Robert J. Lloyd makes it look easy. Mix in secret codes, hidden documents, dying children, political corruption, religious hysteria and a breathless rescue on London Bridge’s great waterwheel and you have a truly memorable debut, certainly one that should have been fêted more than it has been.
I first read this novel on Kindle, but decided it was a keeper and bought both ‘The Bloodless Boy’ and its excellent sequel ‘The Clockwork Assassins’ (a subject close to my heart) in paperback. I was shocked to discovered that the books are (I think) self published, judging by the cover stock. I’m not surprised; I’ve read half a dozen superb, thoughtful historical novels which were bypassed by our purblind publishers for more commercial fare.
Treat yourself to these detailed slices of richly dramatic London crime, high-born and low, and let’s hope that Mr Lloyd is encouraged to produce many more.