King Charles is on the throne of the United Kingdom. Oh, to clarify, this is London, 1670, and the Charles in question is Charles II, a monarch with quite a reputation for debauchery.
Kitty Burgess is an actress in the Duke’s Company with great ambitions, but after the opening night of The Summer Birdcage, Aminta Grey’s new play, she disappears, bundled into a black stagecoach and driven away. Kitty had been speaking about a great new opportunity – but when a body is found near Bishop’s Stortford, wearing Kitty’s dress and ring and holding her script of the play, clearly the opportunity was not what she was expecting.
Sir John Grey is convinced Kitty is dead, despite the body having been beaten so badly as to be unrecognisable. Aminta, however, is less convinced. She is convinced that she has seen Kitty in the streets of London. Against his better judgment, Grey finding himself hunting for Kitty, but soon things have escalated beyond all expectation.
Well, that probably sets some sort of record for the first review of the month being on the eleventh. Don’t worry, nothing’s wrong, just absolutely swamped with work and life. Less time to read, and after spending all day staring at a computer screen, writing blog posts seems less enticing. That’s not to say I’ve not been reading – there are two more reviews to come after this one, once I work out how to review them (he said mysteriously) – but I’ve finally found a little time. But enough about me.
It’s funny how book series creep up on you – it only seems like the other day that the John Grey series started with A Cruel Necessity, and now we’re on Book Eight. Grey at this point has tried to put his past behind him, both as a puritan in the reign of Cromwell and as a spy, but things have a way of catching up with you. These books are always a really enjoyable read, not least as you’re never quite sure what to expect from them. The author is willing to be far more flexible with the mystery format, with the series varying from whodunits to political thrillers. Now I’ll be honest, that sort of uncertainty can annoy me, but not in this case, as there is no other author like Len Tyler for putting a smile on my face. He is, hands down, the mystery writer who writes the most entertaining mysteries.
Plot-wise, it’s impressive how a missing actress escalates into a plot involving the King himself, and the central thread of Kitty’s part in the shenanigans is a clever one. All in all though, the simplest review that I can give this is that it was exactly the book that I needed at a time when I’m distracted. A charming, witty, complex historical thriller with delightful characters and an engrossing plot.
The Summer Birdcage is out now from Constable in hardback and ebook. Many thanks to Len Tyler for the review copy.