The Cheapside Corpse

Written by Susanna Gregory
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

London 1665, and the country is in turmoil. The plague is rife in the city, the Dutch are threatening to invade and the Goldsmiths, acting as bankers – there being no official banks in those days – had suffered serious losses and were charging extortionate amounts of interest when lending money. Corruption was everywhere, and even those suffering from the plague could avoid the 40 days’ quarantine, if they had sufficient money to bribe the ‘searchers’ to say they were only ill from the dropsy or falling sickness, etc. When the body of one of the bankers is discovered in Cheapside and a French spy dies of the plague, having apparently walked unhindered from Long Acre to Cheapside, the Earl of Clarendon orders Thomas Chaloner to investigate. The bodies begin to mount when a local physician, especially popular with the poor, is also murdered.

From the historical notes we learn that, in 1912, archaeologists discovered a cache of fabulous Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery in Cheapside, which was at least 250 years old. No one knows how it got there, but in dating it back to this period Susanna Gregory possibly found her ‘hook’ for her latest Thomas Chaloner mystery. The majority of her characters really existed, and rumours of the Dutch invasion were everywhere. I found it an interesting story with a solid historical base, but I did think the pace was rather slow. I tended to get bogged down in the bankers’ shenanigans. However, the historical note at the end of the book was a great help. This is the latest in the Thomas Chaloner mysteries, and I have no doubt that we have not seen the last of him.