Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Edi's Spotlight: The Sweet Smell of Decay by Paul Lawrence

You may have mentioned that I rediscovered my love for Middle Ages and especially historical thrillers. That does not mean I get rid of the rest.
After a more common post - Edi's Lighthouse Chatter: Fascination of Medieval England and the review of a historical book - Edi's Spotlight: The Time Traveller's Guide To Medieval England by Ian Mortimer, today you get a review of a historical thriller.

The wonderful people from Beautiful Books sent me a copy of The Sweet Smell of Decay (June 2009, 448 p.)
[ISBN-13: 978-1905636426], by Paul Lawrence
"It's London,1664, and Harry has a big problem. He's just discovered he has a young cousin, Anne Giles, and he’s had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time – mutilated and laid out on the slab for an autopsy. His father has tasked him with job of tracking down Anne’s murderer. Harry has some robust assistance from one David Dowling, a resourceful and impressively well-built, but equally hygiene-deficient, butcher. Together they follow a trail of blood, conspiracy and corruption that takes them to the dark and murky corners of Restoration London, featuring a great cast of ne'er-do-wells, cheeky wenches, harmless witches, likeable villains, and not a few unsavoury fellows keen on sending Lytle and his companion to an early grave"
The Sweet Smell of Decay is Paul Lawrence's debut novel and at the same time the first book in The Chronicles of Harry Lytle series.

The Sweet Smell of Decay what a title for a book! It hits the bull's eye. The story is set in London of 1664. That means just one year before the outbreak of the Great Plague in 1665 and two years before the Great Fire of London in 1666. And I can tell you that Paul Lawrence learned his history lesson very well. My new knowledge based on The Time Traveller's Guide To Medieval England (June 2009, 368 p.) [ISBN-13: 978-1845950996], by Ian Mortimer has been very helpful, even there are two centuries between these books.
To keep it short the whole description of London and surrounding, the people who inhabit the area, the society and manners are absolutely extraordinary!
I could start to quote things immediately. But I will restrict myself to just one quote about living:
"The government had a tax on chimneys; so poor people blocked them up and choked to death instead of starving." [P259+260]
I can tell you that in this case we must be glad that books does not contain any smell of the stories!!
If your imagination works more than well you should prepare yourself in following way before you start reading:
Put a clothes-pin on your nose and place a bucket beside you .......

Let's have a look at the story.
"As I gazed upon her face a small black beetle emerged from the ruins of her right eye. It stood uncertainly upon the crest of her cheekbone as if suddenly reluctant to step out further. Though I looked upon the beetle as if it was something unutterably revolting – still I felt like we two had something in common.” [p. 1]
These are the opening phrases of The Sweet Smell of Decay. The whole story is told from Harry Lytle's point of view. First person novels are always a challenge. Paul Lawrence mastered it well. The reader doesn't know more than the hero. So you have every freedom for your own speculations. The main characters are Harry Lytle, a young man working as clerk at the Tower who is getting more and more disenchanted. And then we have the David Dowling, a devout and arcane butcher with a knack for forensics. Both are believable. I could easily connect with both of them. Harry is young and inexperienced but nosy, open-minded and honest. He get's often a bloody nose because he can't avoid to run his head against a wall.

The whole story is divided in 28 chapters. You find a quotation at the head of each chapter. Paul Lawrence quoted them from Ewen & Prime's translation of Ray's Flora of Cambridgeshire. [Source]
I recommend to read them twice: Before and after a chapter. That helps to find the connection between the quote and the chapter.

In the beginning I found the story a bit cumbersome. Maybe one of the reasons was the partial use of "old" Egnlish language. But that did not take long. The prose is so alluring, hefty, witty and partial vulgar. And there is humor ..
All together fits perfectly.

Storywise you get a lot of twists and turns. Shortly after the middle of the book I thought the story is over. But fortunately Harry Lytle is a bullhead.... And there is a suprise at the end ......

I can't wait to read the next book in The Chronicles of Harry Lytle series.


You like historical thrillers set in 17th century England, with a lovable "hero" and an extraordinary sidekick in a twisted story, porcupined with historical information, witty,hefty and alluring prose? Then you must read The Sweet Smell of Decay.

The Literary Quintet
ediFanoB, Bona, Fide, Bona Fide and the Keeper of the minutes (we call him Kotm) debate about the book.
Don't worry it will be shorter than War and Peace and more interesting than counting grains of sand on the beach.

ediFanoB: "Hey personalities." The choir of personalities in unison: "Hey fogey!"
ediFanoB: "Today I want to talk about ... "
Bona Fide: "Mushrooms!"
Bona: "Stinking Lane"
Bona Fide: "Alsatia!!"
Fide: "Butcher?"
Kotm: "London Bridge?"
ediFanoB: "Hmm, all your proposals are related to The Sweet Smell of Decay."
Kotm: "I know that bats and bees love the sweet smell of decay."
Bona Fide: "What have bats and bees in common beside the same first letter?"
Bona: "I know! I know! I know! They both can fly"
Fide: "Bah! When I want to inhale The Sweet Smell of Decay I just visit the compost heap behind the house - best time is a hot summer day...!!"
ediFanob: "Shut up! You all Shut up! It is obvious that you forgot that The Sweet Smell of Decay is Paul Lawrence's debut novel which is a historical thriller and not a garden handbook."
Kotm: "I LOVE The Sweet Smell of Decay!"
Bona Fide: "ME TOO!
Bona: "ME TOO!"
Fide: "ME TOO!"
ediFanob: "ME TOO!"
All together: "WE LOVE The Sweet Smell of Decay!!"
ediFanoB[exuberant]: " Kotm, summarize, summarize, summarize, ...!"
Kotm: "Are you sure?"
ediFanob: "YES."

Kotm[smiling]: "WE LOVE The Sweet Smell of Decay!!"

ediFanob[desperated]: "Come on. That can't be true. I can't post that."

Kotm:
The Sweet Smell of Decay is an intoxicating, gorgeous, alluring, interspersed with action and violence, thrilling, twisting, witty and hefty, luckily non smelling, porcupined with historical information, absolutely entertaining, historical thriller.

There was no way out:
ediFanoB ordered the second book in the series in advance.
A Plague of Sinners (May 2010, 448 p.) [ISBN-13: 978-1905636914], by Paul Lawrence
"July 1665. The great plague rages rampant outside London’s city walls. Harry Lytle makes a welcome return after his trials and tribulations in The Sweet Smell of Decay to investigate the murder of the Earl of St Albans. A grisly dinner-table death starts Harry off on the trail, and it’s not long before his familiar accomplice, Dowling the butcher, joins him on the case. Their master, Lord Arlington, head of the King’s intelligence service, tasks them with uncovering the name and motive of the Earl’s murderer. But there will be plenty more deaths and scrapes for Harry before the name is revealed."


And there is more good news:
"The third chronicle is currently in the process of being edited and should be available early in 2011." [Source]

About the Author
Paul was born in Wales, grew up in England, and spent several years living in, and nosing around, London. After joining BP he spent time working and living in Spain, Portugal and Japan before settling in Sydney, Australia, where he now lives with his wife and four children. He has author pages on Facebook and Goodreads [Source]

I highly recommend to visit the World of Harry Lytle which offers detailed information and Paul adds continuously more content.

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