The Sweet Smell of Decay

Written by Paul Lawrence
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

London 1664. Charles II is the new king, and the city is coming to terms with new religious and political realities. Harry Lytle is enjoying his quiet, drink-befuddled life when his cousin is found horribly murdered on the pulpit of St Bride’s church and he is tasked with the job of unmasking the killer. With the assistance of the hulking David Dowling, a Scottish butcher with mysterious connections, Lytle follows a rancid trail of corruption and deceit that leads him from the city slums to the Tower of London in his hunt for the twisted murderer.

Paul Lawrence puts his research to excellent use, conjuring up an atmosphere of decay and decadence, and portraying characters that quite literally ooze from their varied ailments. While the novel is long on atmosphere, it is sometimes short on characterisation; for example, the minor characters often blend into one another. The plot also becomes quite convoluted, with too many pungent dead-ends piling up. As a first instalment however, there is certainly promise that the Harry Lytle chronicles will develop into an exciting and atmospheric series.