Review of ‘The Westminster Poisoner’ by Susanna Gregory

imagesRestoration London has its fifth outing and Gregory gives way to the superb pairing of Matthew and Michael in the “Bartholomew” series by having our big-boned senior Proctor take the guise of the arrogant, intelligent, yet socially inept surgeon, Wiseman. After all, every Asterix must have his faithful Obelix. This time we are found hunting the streets of Westminster for a serial murderer. Carefully constrained within the royal microcosm of a decadaent Whitehall – and the odd foray outside to coffee houses – Thomas Chaloner finds himself tasked by the Earl with solving three clerk murders – Langston, Vine and Chetwynd. Unfortunately, the Earl has already decided that another clerk – Greene – is the killer. Thomas is ordered to find evidence of Greene’s guilt and also locate the missing Bernini statue by the end of the twelve days of Misrule (A Killer in Winter anyone?) or lose his job to the utterly charming sycophant, Colonel James Turner. The latter regards sleuthing as best done between the silken sheets of the court ladies and is very good at it. Trouble is, Tom believes Greene innocent. His handy alibis are hard to refute.
As is Gregory’s wont, we are led into a labyrinth of clues, half-observations, misunderstandings and downright lies. Like the Gordian knot we need a keen sword to unravel and understand the careful court facades of frippery, corruption and mendacity. Given the amount of information thrown at us we quickly find ourselves, like Thomas, overwhelmed. Trying to fathom out the ridiculous and petty intrigues of Lady Castlemaine and the ovine ambition of Bess Gold amongst the more blatant desires of the courtiers for whom a hedonistic lifestyle is the sole ambition proves an immense headache. In this one, everyone has another agenda.
So Tom has twelve days to solve a murder and save his career. Twelve Days to protect his Earl from the japes of Broderick. Twelve Days for a serial killer who believes murder is acceptable for moral gain to continue a spree of death. Not much time at all.
Gregory’s prolific pen spins web after web of erudite mystery. The realisation that all these people actually lived and breathed provides more evidence of Gregory’s skills. She is the finest historical mystery writer writing today and I venture has surpassed Ellis Peters by some margin. Compared to Chaloner and Bartholomew, Cadfael is a novice. Oh…and it’s nice to see Tom find his Hannah whilst Mathilde continues to misguidedly hide herself from Matthew.
Buy it. This’ll be far better than any TV programme in the evening.

Categories: Book Reviews, Susanna Gregory, Thomas Chaloner

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