The Italian Potion
Set in Restoration London, in 1663, this is Bewley’s first novel. As a journalist he is well able to string words together, and he obviously knows his period. But the book didn’t ‘sing’ for me. Perhaps because the characters are flat, perhaps because I didn’t believe in the love the hero had for the woman to whom he becomes engaged, perhaps because there was a lack of descriptive detail. Dress, place, people are hardly described at all, which impedes the reader from entering into the world the author has created.
The story opens with a meeting for a demonstration of how to turn base metal into gold, which the hero, Francis Wyld, attends. When the man who claims to have found the secret is later murdered, Wyld is called in to investigate. The plot twists its way through Court intrigue, villainous attacks and murder to the denouement, where all – or nearly all – we never do discover how the transmutation of lead to gold was achieved! – is explained and resolved.
Written in the first person, the style has overtones of Pepys, which adds a period feel, but I found the story slow-paced, which did not make for an enjoyable read.