Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Amorous Nightingale - Edward Marston

Edward Marston is a prolific author of historical mysteries, with several series on the go.  I read the first of his highly successful Railway Detective series a few years ago and many, many years ago I read The Merry Devils, the second of his Nicholas Bracewell/Elizabethan Theatre series.

This, though, is the second of his Christopher Redmayne series.  Redmayne is a London architect, working in the first decade of the Restoration.  This story is set in 1667, the year after the Great Fire, boom time for those in the building trade.  Christopher, however, seems able to knock off a design in a couple of shakes and spend the rest of his time as a proto-gumshoe on the King's ticket.  One of Old Rowley's many actress mistresses has been kidnapped; Redmayne and his oppo, puritan parish constable Jonathan Bale, must find her.

The theatre is inevitably a factor here, and I must admit to a problem which is not likely to trouble many.  When I read The Merry Devils I only had two drama degrees and thought it slightly under-researched in terms of the Jacobethan stage.  I now have four drama degrees and am appalled at how under-informed Marston is regarding the Restoration stage.  It's not terminal, but it's very distracting.  Still, if you write as many historical series as Marston does, over as many historical periods, how much research can you expect?

A more substantial flaw, for me, was the superficiality of the writing.  Precious little description, either personal or environmental.  You'd think an architect would take more notice of all the new buildings shooting up from the ashes.  There is pace, which is a good thing, an appropriate amount of backstory which is neatly handled, and dialogue with just enough period flavour to pass muster.  But the plot is clumsy - a villain we know nothing about, an absurdly contrived conspiracy and, the biggest hurdle to my enjoyment, scenes in which the unnamed, un-described bad guy confers with his henchpersons.  More than anything, The Amorous Nightingale suffers the lack of a coherent point of view.  I suspect I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it had all been from Christopher's POV or, better still, a first-person account from the lugubrious Bale, struggling to balance his loathing of king and theatre with the peril facing Harriet Gow.

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