Sunday, June 27, 2010

Edi's Spotlight: A Plague of Sinners by Paul Lawrence

I keep my promise from yesterday and "torture" you, my dear readers, with a review. It is the review of the only book I finished so far in June 2010.
It is a historical thriller. Come with me on a time travel back to London in the year 1665.Welcome to the second novel in The Chronicles of Harry Lytle series. In April 2010 I reviewed The Sweet Smell of Decay (June 2009, 448 p.) [ISBN-13: 978-1905636426], by Paul Lawrence. I liked the debut a lot and wrote:

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.

That leads directly to the question: Could A Plague of Sinners (May 2010, 448 p.) [ISBN-13: 978-1905636914], by Paul Lawrence top The Sweet Smell of Decay? Before I will give you my answer have a look at the cover which fits well and read the spoiler free blurb.
"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."
Like Smell of Decay, A Plague of Sinners is dived into 28 chapters. You find a quotation at the head of each chapter. This time all the quotes are related to astrology in general and medical astrology in particular. The quotations are from William Bell's Christian Anthology [ISBN-13: 978-1933303024]. I recommend to read them twice: Before and after a chapter. That helps to find the connection between the quote and the chapter.

Now let us talk about the three W's. Is that a question mark on your forehead? Let me solve the riddle.
Three W's means: What = the story, Where = the world, Who = the characters
Anything not mentioned their you will find under the heading additional thoughts. Finally you get my recommendation and some additional infos.Here we go.

The World
The story is set in London of 1665 which is a baneful place in the year of the Great Plague. I tried to avoid to use the statements from my The Sweet Smell of Decay review but that is nearly impossible. I have to repeat again that Paul Lawrence learned his history lesson very well. The depiction of London under the pressure of the plague is scary. In my review of I wrote:
"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 ......."
You should do the same before reading A Plague of Sinners. But additionally you need a mirror to check your body for bubo and you should definitely wear:
A wide-brimmed black hat worn close to the head, a primitive gas mask in the shape of a bird's beak, a long, black overcoat, a wooden cane and leather breeches [Source], when you visit houses marked with a read plague cross.

To keep it short the whole description of London and surrounding, the people who inhabit the area, the society and manners are again absolutely extraordinary and frighteningly down-to-earth!!!
Whenever you get the opportunity to visit the Museum of London. Please do it. There you can proof Paul's descriptions word by word. I know what I'm talking about because I visited the Museum of London in 2007.
'Nuff said about the world.

The Characters
The main characters are Harry Lytle, a young, former clerk who is now working since eighteen months for the intelligence service.In the meantime Harry is a bit more experienced after his first case. He is still nosy, open-minded and honest. And he still gets a bloody nose because he can't avoid to run his head against a wall. I think that will never change. Then we have David Dowling, a devout, arcane and pious butcher with a knack for forensics. He is much more than a sidekick. And a lot of people underestimate his intelligence. Finally remarkable is Jane, Harry's fiery redhead housekeeper, who does not sound like an housekeeper when she talks to Harry. For me it is obvious that Jane and Harry like each other a lot. But I would not call it love.
It will be interesting to see how their relationship will develop within the next novel(s).
Beside these three main characters we meet more people who are relevant for the story but some of them you would heavily avoid to meet like Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death. Yes indeed, Harry and David "meet" the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I can assure you, that they are human beings but the act like ..... no, I can't tell you that. Paul Lawrence delivers good depictions of all characters from Bedlam inmate up to Lords like Lord Arlington.

The Story
A Plague of Sinners - for me the title is a play of words. On the one hand you have the real plague and on the other hand you have the sinners who kill people as gruesome as the plague. At this point let me note that the Plague and the Black Death - epidemics - is a topic on its own. If you want to get more information as delivered in the book then you should follow this link: Plague

"When Heges fell face first into his dinner after giving birth to an almighty sneeze, the rest of us just sat and stared at the gravy dripping down the backs of his ears. We watched in silence, gaping at the back of his large unmoving head and the pieces of lamb and fish stuck in his hair. His mouth gaped open and a thin stream auf sauce dribbled from the side of his mouth. Still we waited, willing him to blink, sit up again and wipe the food from his forehead." [p. 1]
These are the opening phrases of A Plague of Sinners. It seems Paul has a knack to jump right into the story which I like. Again the whole story is told from Harry Lytle's point of view. And again Paul Lawrence mastered it well. The reader doesn't know more than the hero. So you have every freedom for your own speculations. And to be honest there are a lot of twists and turns until Harry and David solve the murder of the Earl of St Albans. And these twists and turns are far from being simple. It is fascinating to see how cleverly thought out the story is. The reader is intrigued from the beginning until the end and I promise you that you can't stop guessing. And as a surplus you learn about the influence of religion and astrology especially under the pressure of the plague. Paul has a talent to slip in these informations without being patronizing.
For me it was incredible to read how fast Harry and David change from persuing to being persued. And there is action, a lot of action. You never know what will happen next. Awesome!
For me me there is one obvious difference between I think the main difference between The Sweet Smell of Decay and A Plague of Sinners. The story is more complex. And the whole story is walked by a prose which is a bit more alluring, hefty, witty and vulgar than before. Story and prose build a wonderful unit.

Additional thoughts
What else to say? For me A Plague of Sinners was a satisfying read. It contains everything what I expect from an extraordinary good historical thriller. Or in other words

You really want a recommendation after this review? OK. I try to deliver one. I use my recommendation for The Sweet Smell of Decay as a base. But A Plague of Sinners deserves an own one.

You like intelligent, action paced historical thrillers set in 17th century England, with two lovable heroes who find their way - fighting, bleeding, thinking, pious - through a highly twisted story richly interspersed with historical information and delivered in a witty, hefty and alluring prose then you must read
A Plague of Sinners.

Or let me express it with a simple equation:

A Plague of Sinners = satisfying extraordinary good historical thriller

ADVICE: It is not mandatory to read The Sweet Smell of Decay before A Plague of Sinners but I highly recommend to do it. Why? If you don't do it you will miss a great read and the development of the main characters.

Additional information

Some more information about William Bell's Christian Astrology [ISBN-13: 978-1933303024].
"Named "Christian" to avoid hassles (some things never change), this is the most famous, the most celebrated astrology book in the English language. It has been prized by students ever since its first publication in 1647. The Horary Astrology in these pages, in the hands of a master, is no mere parlour game. It is demanding and precise, combining science and art. Properly used, it will give answer to any well-defined question. William Lilly, famous throughout England for his almanacs & forecasts (he predicted London's Great Fire of 1666), lived during the English Civil War & was a minor historical figure in it. Into his studio came the rich and poor, nobles and commoners, with problems great and small. This new edition restores Lilly's original page layouts, with marginalia. Modern spelling throughout, this edition includes Lilly's bibliography, his original index & a new glossary. Also includes his original woodblock charts, and their modern versions. This is Lilly's great work as he himself knew it.In this volume: Book 1, An Introduction to Astrology, containing the use of an ephemeris; the erecting of a scheme of heaven; nature of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, of the planets; with a most easy introduction to the whole art of astrology.
Book 2, The Resolution of All Manner of Questions, by a most methodical way, instructs the student how to judge or resolve all manner of questions contingent unto man, viz, of health, sickness, riches, marriage, preferment, journeys, etc. Some 35 questions inserted and judged." [Source]
For more information about the famous English astrologer William Lilly follow this link.

There is one more good news:
"The third chronicle is currently in the process of being edited and should be available early in 2011." [Source]
I assume we will meet Harry Lytle in London of 1666. I look forward to read a story set around the Great Fire of London. And I promise you that I will definitely read and review it.

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.


Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Sounds really good, thanks for the review. Love the covers too.

ediFanoB said...


if you like historical thrillers then you should not miss it.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderfully discriptive book, you feel like you are sitting amongst the horrendous odour, the uneven streets,whilst as Harry and Dowling briskly make there way to the next place of horrific, death and decay. BB

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