Death’s Bright Angel

Written by J. D. Davies
Review by Myfanwy Cook

Battles at sea, religious conflict, fanatics ‘speechifying’, the threat of foreign terror and the Great Fire of London are all combined in this 6th novel in the Matthew Quinton mystery series. The author has blended his knowledge of sea warfare between the British Navy and their Dutch and French adversaries with his well-researched interest into the real causes of the London fire. An appendix at the back of this novel contains the novelist’s detailed investigation into the fire, set against the political context of the period.

The novel opens with the Jeanne d’Arc being taken as a prize by Captain Quinton. It then leads the reader on through the destruction of a large Dutch merchant fleet to the razing by fire of the Dutch town of Westerchelling three weeks before the burning of London. This event is pivotal to Davies’ story and leads his main character to become embroiled in the intrigue leading up to the trial of Robert Hubert, a Huguenot watchmaker.

It is always challenging for a writer to try to catch a new reader up with a cast of characters already well-established in previous novels. Having never read any in this series, I find it admirable that Davies has managed to introduce these characters smoothly. My favourite being Captain Kitt Farrell, a seaman, who unlike Quinton, hadn’t come from the privileged classes and won his captaincy on merit being a “bad judge of wine”, but an excellent judge of the movement of ships through water.”

This novel is full of naval action, but it isn’t overburdened with technical vocabulary. Davies has created a ring of authenticity and a taste of the atmosphere of the times through competently crafted dialogue.