The Executioner of St Paul’s

Written by Susanna Gregory
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

London, 1665. Plague is raging in the overcrowded city. Only the poor, or those struggling to keep the city’s infrastructure functional until the crisis is over, remain. There is another, long-term problem: what to do with the dangerously unstable St Paul’s Cathedral. One faction wants an expensive restoration; the other wants to demolish it and erect a magnificent new cathedral designed by Christopher Wren. This is King Charles II’s preferred option, and those who support him are expecting huge economic benefits to come their way. Both factions have raised large sums of money, which have mysteriously gone astray, and there is a suspect: Canon Robert Kerchier. Then a body is found in another man’s tomb. Thomas Chaloner, spy to the Earl of Clarendon, reluctantly agrees to investigate. The body is Kerchier’s, and he was murdered. If he is not the thief, then who is? Chaloner learns that someone, known only as the Executioner, is determined to build Wren’s cathedral and will stop at nothing to silence his opponents. He has many hidden supporters, but who is he? Is Chaloner himself on the Executioner’s hit list?

Susanna Gregory is good at atmosphere. She gets across the horror of living in 17th-century plague-stricken London. The city is bone dry and sweltering in a heat wave. The stench of death from the open plague pits is horrendous, and there is little food. The authorities are doing their best: they have killed all the cats and dogs as a health measure, and ordered huge bonfires to purify the air. Neither, of course, works. I liked the rising tension as the death toll rises—and it’s not only from the plague. This is Thomas Chaloner’s twelfth adventure, and Susanna Gregory is well into her stride. Her fans will love The Executioner of St Paul’s.