This week’s Monday mystery is by a favourite author from a favourite series. The Cheapside Corpse is number 10 in Susanna Gregory‘s Thomas Chaloner Adventure series which takes place in Restoration England, circa 1665. Our hero, Chaloner, is employed by the Earl of Clarendon, and his occupation is that of spy.
Thomas returns from a mission to put down rebellion in Hull, only to find his wife, Hannah, is indebted to a corrupt money-lender who has sent his thugs to threaten and intimidate her. Indeed, she is not the only one in mid-17th century London unable to pay her debts. A well respected vintner with a gambling problem has taken loans for his vice from many bankers around town using the same collateral with each. When he has lost everything and commits suicide, his bankers have either gone bankrupt or sold their list of debtors to an unscrupulous banker who has raised their interest to rates they are unable to meet. With the death of a major money-lender named Wheler, dissension between bankers increases as his widow forges an alliance with another banker, making them a force to be reckoned with in Cheapside. In addition to this, there is the threat of plague in the city and the poor fall victim to the stringent measures enforced by the government but resent the rich who are able to “buy off” the watchers and do not have their families quarantined within their homes.
Clarendon wants Thomas to find the killer of Wheler, to find information that was supposed to come to Clarendon from a spy he was cultivating who succumbed to the plague after “staggering across the city”, likely spreading it everywhere he went. He also expects Chaloner to find a criminal named Baron and force him to fulfill his commitment to supply 9 sets of drapes paid for, only 7 of which have been delivered to the Earl’s extravagant new palace. At the same time, Thomas has to find a way to make payments on Hannah’s debts. When the government spymaster, Williamson, offers to wipe out Hannah’s debts if Thomas will work with his chief spy (and assassin), he reluctantly agrees although with an uncertainty that he can trust the man.
There are many solid suspects in this crime novel, as well as several different lines of investigation. Banker Taylor, amassing a fortune through exorbitant interest rates, seems to be losing his mind. One of Taylor’s sons has written a book attacking the widow of Cromwell, and Thomas’ friend, Thurloe wants him to find the author and stop him from publishing a sequel as it is causing animosity between parliamentarians and cavaliers. Another of Taylor’s sons was in the army with Thomas, who is loathe to see him as a suspect even though he seems to have good motive and is behaving suspiciously. Baron, who had been a collector for Wheler, has inherited a lucrative part of his enterprise.
There are lots of interesting characters, slices of Restoration London life, and details of how they tried to control a plague which was devastating England as well as most of the continent of Europe. With homes quarantined, fires breaking out in slums, members of the court in debts they cannot manage, and a rash of burglaries with no sign of entry, Thomas has his work cut out for him.
This is a terrific series by the author of the Brother Matthew Bartholomew mysteries, also a winner. These are ‘comfort’ reads for me; I love to get into one of Gregory’s books when I’m looking for familiar characters and settings which make for a fast read. So far, not one from these series have ever disappointed. Well written and historically researched, I love getting to the author’s note at the back of the book to find out the facts behind the story. This is a can’t miss book for mystery lovers. * * * * ___________________________
It’s very easy to participate in my Mystery Monday meme. Just post a review of your latest mystery read on your own site as your Monday post, and then a comment on my post with a link to yours. Drag or copy my meme logo and add it to your post along with these few rules. Simplicity itself! I look forward to learning about more great mysteries to add to my ever-growing list of To Be Read.