The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor

The Fire Court Cover

Publisher: Harper Collins

Australian Publication Date – 19 March 2018

World Publication Date – 5 April 2018

 

Bestselling author Andrew Taylor returns to the 1660’s and the scorched city of London with the thrilling murder mystery, The Fire Court.

It has only been a few short months since the Great Fire of London ravaged the city, killing many and destroying a large number of houses and buildings.  The city is now finally rebuilding itself, aided by the Fire Court, an incorruptible institution that examines legal cases around the rebuilding and ensures the best result for the city.  While the Fire Court is supposed to be neutral in all cases, there are some who seek to use it their advantage.

James Marwood, a low-level government official, is one of the few people in London doing better now than before the fire.  However, James is still caring for his ailing father, a convicted traitor whose mind has been affected by his time as a prisoner.  When his father claims to have found a murdered woman at the site of the Fire Court, James initially assumes that his father imagined the situation.  But when his father is run down in the street and killed, James begins to suspect he may have actually witnessed a murder.

As James begins to look into this possibility, he soon finds evidence that connects his suspicions to an upcoming Fire Court case that will decide who will rebuild a number of profitable properties.  His investigation once again leads him to an old acquaintance of his, Cat Lovett, the daughter of a regicide.  James previously helped Cat escape retribution for her father’s crimes, and he now turns to Cat and her new employer to gather information on the upcoming case.

When more people connected to the case turn up dead and their investigation is hampered by influential members of the court, James and Cat begin to suspect that the Fire Court may not be as incorruptible as they thought.  It soon becomes clear that death is once again stalking the streets of London and this time they will not escape unscathed.

The Fire Court is the follow-up to Taylor’s 2016 hit, The Ashes of London.  Taylor is a veteran author and has significant experience writing a range of different genres and novel types.  He has produced over 40 novels since 1982, mainly focusing on crime fiction, with some of his more recent books featuring captivating historical elements.

Taylor’s last book, The Ashes of London, was a fantastic piece of historical crime fiction that made full use of its distinctive setting of the Great Fire of London.  Having the characters solve a crime and explore the city during the immediate aftermath of such a devastating historical event was masterstroke from Taylor which has resulted in a superb and memorable piece of literature.  In The Fire Court, Taylor returns to this fascinating period to show how much rebuilding happened in the six months after the destructive fire.  The focus on the historical Fire Court that was instituted in the aftermath of this event is the most intriguing part of Taylor’s new book, and readers will be extremely interested in learning more about this unique bit of history.  Taylor does a tremendous job of introducing the role that the Fire Court played in the rebuilding of the city and how it worked.  The reader is treated to several scenes that feature cases before the court, showing how the verdicts were reached.  Several of the Fire Court’s actual judges are included as characters, which is a nice touch of historical realism.  Overall, the examination and inclusion of the historical Fire Court is a notable piece of this novel and readers will appreciate how Taylor has interlaced his complex murder mystery with this interesting historical setting.

In addition to the fire-related historical elements, Taylor has also done an outstanding job of displaying what the city of London would have looked like in the 1660s.  During their investigation of the crime the protagonists visit large and varied swathes of the city which are vividly described, which brings readers right in to the middle of this vibrant and bustling city.  This base historical setting is well written, and readers will enjoy this incredible romp back in time.

The central plot of this novel revolves around a powerful murder mystery storyline and investigation.  The Fire Court is told from the perspective of three separate narrators – James, Cat and Jemima – each of whom tries to find answers in their own way.  The investigation into the murder is very intense, and what initially starts as a single potential murder spirals into a series of killings as the culprits attempt to cover up their crimes.  This overall storyline is well written, filled with suspense, and very compelling.  Readers will be captivated by the way fire is used by both the protagonists and the antagonists throughout the book.  The use of such a tool is significant, as all the London-based characters know the power of fire and its destructive potential.  It is a potent symbol of criminal wrongdoing in this series, and the audience will be shocked by how it affects the lives of the protagonists in this book.  In addition to the symbolic use of fire, Taylor also includes a significant twist at the conclusion of the investigation that will leave the reader reeling and thinking for a very long time.

Taylor has produced a remarkable and enjoyable murder mystery that makes full use of its unique setting.  Readers will love the detailed examination of the aftermath of London’s most destructive fire and will find themselves enthralled by an excellent mystery with one hell of an ending.  This is a highly recommended read from an exceptional author.

My Rating:

Four stars

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