The Muscovy Chain

Written by John Pilkington
Review by Edward James

Can the modern genre of the detective story be transposed to cultural settings where there is no police force, no forensic science and completely different concepts of justice and law enforcement? Surely the result must be a total anachronism.

Yet why not? Does anybody really believe in Hercule Poirot or Inspector Morse? Do their adventures have anything serious to say about crime and law enforcement in the 20th and 21st centuries? They are primarily intellectual games, literary crossword puzzles. So why not set your master sleuth and his mystery in ancient Egypt, the Aztec Empire or Nazi Germany?

John Pilkington sets his ‘intelligencer’, Thomas the Falconer, in Elizabethan England. The Muscovy Chain is the seventh novel in the series. The plot is very Agatha Christie. Sir Robert Vicary, Thomas’s employer, is entertaining the Russian ambassador at his country house when the bejewelled chain which was to be presented to the ambassador goes missing. The culprit is clearly one of the house guests, and he is unmasked by Thomas in Sir Robert’s study towards the end of the story, leaving the murderous sub-plot to be resolved in a final act of violence. It is very neat and entertaining.

What does the story tell us about Tudor England? We learn that 1596 had a terrible summer, with almost continuous rain. Nearly all the action takes place in a downpour. Luckily Sir Robert’s country seat was on the Berkshire Downs, thus escaping the catastrophic floods in the Severn Valley which inundated Tewkesbury and Gloucester. And not even Thomas could blame global warming.