This is the second volume in the series set in Restoration London. It is 1666 and the newly established pairing of Pitman and William Coke is employed by Sir Joseph Williamson, Under-Secretary of State, to prevent the planned assassination of King Charles II by fanatical Fifth Monarchists in London. They equate the fateful year of 1666 with the number of the beast and, therefore, expect that the year will see the return of Jesus as the world’s king to banish Satan once and for all. The attempt is made while the King is attending the theatre, and fails, thanks to the efforts of Pitman and Coke, though they needed some luck to thwart the killing. Pitman is a professional thief-taker and Captain Coke, former cavalier and reformed highwayman, is preparing to marry his pregnant partner, a widow and actress, Sarah Chalker. But William is betrayed on his own wedding day by a villainous plot hatched by the Fifth Monarchists, and ends up pressed into service for the Royal Navy in the campaigns against the Dutch fleet. Meanwhile, Sarah ends up in a debtor’s prison, and then the hot dry London summer explodes into the disastrous conflagration at the start of September, and it does indeed appear that the Fifth Monarchist’s predictions might just be coming true.
The story is very capably and engagingly told. The madness and disregard for life shown by the fundamental Fifth Monarchy believers is clearly echoed in aspects of some of today’s extreme religious beliefs and the violence and terror they justify in the name of their God. The story rattles along to a neat conclusion – adept and entertaining historical fiction that has been thoroughly researched and accurately portrayed.