Historical fiction offers readers the opportunity to explore a different time and place within the construct of a story focusing on characters, rather than through a more academic, and strictly fact-based, approach to the topic. The best historical fiction writers, and John and Patricia Beatty are definitely in this group, seamlessly blend together historical details with a compelling and fascinating story. As a child, it was the Beattys who sparked my interest in the history of England and the British Isles during the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. With appealing characters, both fictional and historic, exciting plots, and a firm command of English history, John and Patricia Beatty opened up what was to me a fascinating time, and one that has been of interest to me ever since.
I think that of all the titles that the Beattys wrote together, At the Seven Stars was and remains my favorite. The novel is a thrilling story of plotting and espionage in the middle of the 18th century. Although the English and Scottish supporters of the Stuart cause had been soundly defeated at Culloden Moor in 1746, they still hoped that a rising could be mounted that would sweep the House of Hanover from the throne of England and restore the Stuarts to their rightful place. A young man, Richard Larkin, originally from Philadelphia and now working at a London tavern, inadvertently becomes involved in these schemes when he sees a man killed at that tavern. The dead man had refused to join the plotters, and was murdered to keep him from talking. When the plotters realize that they have been observed, they are after Larkin, who flees the tavern, and ends up finding refuge working for the famous satirist and painter William Hogarth. He is discovered there though and further adventures ensue, both in London and in France. The Beattys capture the sense of the time in London, where a fear of unrest has the city on edge. They also introduce other historic characters who lend their support to the story, including lexicographer Samuel Johnson, actor David Garrick, and members of King George II’s government. The Beattys also have a good sense for the language of eighteenth-century England, and the dialog all rings true.
Lost causes often have the best stories and songs, and the failure of the Jacobite Rebellions in the late 17th and early to mid-18th centuries provides ample material for authors. The Beattys make the most of this, evincing a strong understanding of the divisions, the betrayals, and the personal failings that inevitably led to the suppression of the Stuart cause. Readers interested in the Stuarts, the Jacobite Rebellions, eighteenth-century London, or just a fine historical novel will enjoy the work of John and Patricia Beatty.
Check the WRL catalog for At the Seven Stars