Subtitled The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton, this is Kerr’s first historical mystery, and a fine one it is too. Told in the voice of headstrong Christopher Ellis, we meet young Ellis and Sir Isaac Newton, his master, in the Tower of London in 1696. Newton is not merely a renowned scientist, and one of the most brilliant scientific minds of any century, he is also Warden of the Royal Mint by royal appointment. His job: to uncover and prosecute counterfeiters who are undermining the war-weakened and shaky British economy by producing false coins.
What Newton and Ellis discover is that the counterfeiting scheme is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Sinister and insidious, the detective team learns that not merely is the British economy under attack but a conspiracy is afoot which reaches to the highest levels of British society, threatening the very fiber of their nation. Kerr ingeniously interweaves mysterious, apparently unrelated murders, heavily encoded ciphers and alchemy into this remarkable first try at the genre. Add to the mix Kerr’s admirable research into the period and his talent for making us feel that we’re sitting in the same room with Ellis and Newton, listening to their repartee. A fun read, and illuminating as well.