After The Fire (2011) by John Pilkington

London, 1670, and the city is rebuilding after the devastation of the Great Fire four years previously. But the fire did more than just destroy buildings – it destroyed lives as well. And the conflagration hid many crimes that took place while the destruction raged…

Betsy Brand is taking to the stage in a performance of MacBeth, playing First Witch, when the actor playing Banquo dies a little too convincingly. It transpires that he has been poisoned, just like two other men previously, men with links to the theatre. And it seems that the murderer is far from finished.

The Salamander has returned to London – and he will not stop until his revenge is complete…

A random Kindle pick this one. I was reading a new release, an historical mystery, but the writing there was clunky and it wasn’t working for me. So I decided to dip into the Kindle lending library and picked this one, basically at random. Do be careful, as there are about eight other books also called After The Fire, including one “Second Chance Sports Romance”, if that’s your sort of thing…

First of all, I should applaud the writing style. There’s nothing better at illuminating good writing than coming to it after some indifferent writing and John Pilkington’s prose flowed off the page. It’s very easy to get hooked, while not being shy on the historical detail. While we don’t get some of the darkest imagery that can appear in such books, he doesn’t avoid the realities of life at the time, such as the woman who hires her young children to a local beggar for a shilling…

The lead character is well painted, as is her retinue. You may be rolling your eyes at another female empowered female sleuth in a period of history when such characters were unlikely, but I think Pilkington makes the character convincing and she works very well as a lead sleuth.

The mystery, while engrossing, does have a somewhat flat ending. Most of the detection comes from a knowledge of languages, although to be fair, the killer did think that nobody would know one of the words, but there is a good clue concerning one of the deaths. There is… ugh, how to put this without spoiling it… a link between two characters that seemed forced and to come out of nowhere and more detail into how that link was formed would have helped the plot. It did seem a massive coincidence that such a link could be formed, given what the characters in question have in common… There’s also an element that for at least one aspect, it could have been anyone…

All in all though, while the mystery plot didn’t satisfy me completely, this is a very readable historical mystery with a strong lead character. Not in the class of Doherty, Jeck, Tyler or Tremayne, nonetheless, this is a lot closer than much else that I’ve seen, and I’ll definitely be taking another look in the future. This has just been re-released, along with a lot of the author’s other works, by Joffe Books as a very affordable ebook. It comes complete with a Glossary of English Slang at the back although not sure how much of it (JCB, Lovely Jubbly, for example) applies to this book…

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