Hearts of Darkness

Written by Paul Lawrence
Review by Nancy Henshaw

In 1666 the Great Plague no longer ravages London, but elsewhere this cruel disease is at its height. The villagers of Shyam endure; no one is allowed in or out, but that is where James Josselin is said to be found. Harry Lytle has Lord Arlington’s instructions: find this alleged traitor and bring him back to London. Arlington is a boss from Hell. If Harry fails, he will face death preceded by the latest in ingenious torture. If he succeeds, he will be executed for knowing too much. And so will his loyal companion, the enormous Bible-quoting David Dowling.

Their journey from London to Shyam makes The Pilgrim’s Progress seem like a lazy holiday in Tenerife. Everyone they encounter, if not actually dead or dying from the Plague, suffers from something chronic and horrible. Even the healthiest person has a green tongue and black gums. Maggots and cockroaches abound in this extraordinary tale, which is a celebration of human courage, compassion and sheer gusto. Harry and Davy infiltrate the village, but this is where they must use every bit of their wit, ingenuity and frequent use of convenient clubs and iron bars to locate the elusive Josselin. Returning to London and the superlatively hateful Arlington, as readers will have guessed, they will be just in time for the second great life-threatening event of that year. This novel is heartily recommended, but possibly not for reading at mealtimes.