As my colleagues and friends know, I have a fondness for historical mysteries. There is something about the blend of a crime story and an unusual setting that I find particularly appealing. One of the most prolific, and I believe finest, writers of historical mysteries is Edward Marston. Marston has five series under that name, and crime novels under two other names, Keith Miles and Conrad Allen. While Marston’s Nicholas Bracewell series remains my favorite, I came across the first book in Marston’s Christopher Redmayne series while working in the stacks, and was immediately drawn in to the story.
The Redmayne books are set in Restoration England, a most interesting time. The Commonwealth has collapsed, and King Charles II has regained the throne. As the series begins in the autumn of 1666 he has been in England for six years. Tensions are still strong though, and strife between the rigidly observant Puritans and the more tolerant Anglicans shadows the nation. Marston captures this tension in the uneasy relationship between his primary characters, an ambitious young architect, Christopher Redmayne, and a Puritan constable, Jonathan Bale. When the pair first meet, Bale spurns Redmayne’s pleasantries, seeing in him an exemplar of all that is bad about the restoration. With his fancy clothing, sword, and interest in the arts, Redmayne is, in Bale’s eyes, an ungodly person. As they are drawn more deeply into the investigation of the death of Redmayne’s patron though, Bale comes to respect the architect and to realize that perhaps his own world view is too narrow.
As in all of his books, Marston offers readers a carefully crafted mystery with a strong sense of both time and place. The sights and smells and sounds of 1660s London ground the story in history, and Marston builds his novel on that strong foundation. With its richly drawn characters, coming from both high and low society, its period details, and its clever plotting, Marston’s Redmayne series is one that will appeal to readers who have enjoyed Bruce Alexander’s Sir John Fielding stories or Jason Goodwin’s Investigator Yashim novels.
Check the WRL catalog for The King’s Evil