It’s 1665, and a venomous plague ravages the townships outside the walls of London. As if avoiding deadly pestilence isn’t enough adversity, the Earl of St. Albans has been murdered. Clerk Harry Lytle, some eighteen months into his acceptance by the intelligence service, is charged with solving the crime - much to the dismay of his housekeeper, Jane, a fiery redhead not known for holding her tongue. Jane would much prefer fleeing in advance of the plague as so many others have done. But Harry’s misplaced loyalties and ambition force her to endure the risk of falling ill and having the tell-tale cross painted in red on their door.
But, what motive exists for the Earl’s dastardly murder? Aligned - though not by choice - with the pious butcher, Davy Dowling, Harry sets out to the discover the why and who of the murder, and it doesn’t take long for the pursuing duo to become the pursued.
Bodies and baddies abound in this action-packed tromp through historical England as Mr. Lawrence takes the reader on a journey of deception, surprising courage and a faith Harry Lytle would readily deny. Historical fiction is not my read of choice, but I found Lawrence’s characters likeable, frightening, repulsive, and fascinating. The author’s attention to period dress and vernacular add charming authenticity to A Plague of Sinners. His meticulous visuals run the gamut of the once majestic Vintner’s Hall, rising from the landscape like a Greek temple, to the ill-maintained Bedlam lunatic asylum, creaking death carts, wretched plague pits, and the seedier waterfront taverns.
With elaborate twists and turns, and accumulative murders most foul, Paul Lawrence weaves a tale that keeps the reader intrigued and guessing to the novel’s end. My only fault was that the romantic in me longed for an amorous, lust-driven tryst or two.
Having read this second installment in the Harry Lytle Chronicles first and being drawn to Harry, Jane, the butcher Dowling and assorted lords, ladies and sinister villains, I find myself wanting to know more about them. I must now go back and read the first novel in this entertaining series, The Sweet Smell of Decay, and would encourage others to do the same. It is my humble opinion that you won’t be disappointed.
A native of the UK, author Paul Lawrence earned a psychology degree at Durham and a PhD at University College London. He has lived and worked in Australia, Spain, Portugal and Japan. In 2004, he settled with his family on Sydney's North Shore. His debut novel, The Sweet Smell of Decay, the first in his series of Harry Lytle chronicles, was published in 2008. The sequel, A Plague of Sinners, is set for release in May 2010. To learn more about Mr. Lawrence and his written works, visit him on the web.