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John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. The Changeling Murders by C. CS Quinn brings back Charlie Tuesday, the rising young thief-taker — a recoverer of stolen goods, part-private eye, part-bounty hunter, likeable, smart, with a string of underworld contacts and none too fussy when it comes to getting results — for his fourth, and perhaps most compelling, adventure.
The year is London is still reeling from the destruction of the Great Fire and rebuilding is slow. Charles II has been on the throne for seven years and enthusiasm for the monarch is rapidly ebbing as he squanders money on mistresses and favourites.
Hard knots of Cromwellian sympathisers remain — particularly among the tradesmen of the city and their apprentices. As a new city struggles to emerge from the ashes, the king and his court are hell-bent on debauched entertainment. As Lent draws to a close, the city London explodes into shocking riot.
Violent demonstrations by apprentices are nothing new, but this time there is a more sinister motive. As brothels and theatres are attacked, Charlie, reunited with his royalist spy sidekick Lily, must find clues to a mythical Lord and Lady, not only to save Maria, but also London itself.
After years what little we know of characters and events of the time is very much open to interpretation. And Quinn, whose background is in historical research, exploits this to the full. Charlie is a very modern hero. Wily, determined and brave, he also has very human weaknesses. Some of his escapes would leave Bourne or Bond stranded and although there may be a few too many useful coincidences there are enough twists and turns to keep you baffled Charlie may stretch credibility, but this fast-paced, clever, convoluted story is escapism at its best.