Lake, Deryn - 'Death in Hellfire'
What a superb book this was from this very accomplished author who has written eleven previous books in the "John Rawlings Mystery" series. John Rawlings is the equivalent of a modern pharmacist but is known in the 18th century as an apothecary. He has a shop in the West End of London and a child from his marriage to his late wife.
In this current book, set in July 1767, Sir John Fielding, the blind magistrate of London, wants John Rawlings to investigate, in secret, the private activities of the British Postmaster General, who is none other than Sir Francis Dashwood. Sir John suspects Sir Francis, together with other members of the aristocracy, of indulging in Satanism or other acts that would cause him disrepute if they became public knowledge.
Rawlings sets off by coach to an inn adjacent to the family country home of the Dashwoods' with the ruse of pretending that he is of the Irish aristocracy and that he is interested in introducing a postal system like Britain's, to Ireland. Sir Francis accepts the deceit and invites Rawlings to stay a few days to discuss the postal systems. At Dashwood's invitation, Rawlings accompanies his host to an adjacent abbey where he is introduced to the Hellfire Club. The following day, back at the Dashwoods' house one of the other aristocratic guests that attended the Hellfire Club the previous night, is mysteriously murdered. Rawlings investigates, with the help of a friend who is pretending to be his servant and subsequently another murder occurs.
The story carries on very successfully to its conclusion. This writer has a real gift in making the reader want to turn the pages even though she has written eleven previous novels in this series. It is packed with historical facts which add a real authenticity to the story. For instance Sir Francis is entertaining his male guests at the dinner table with port and cigars (the ladies having gone off to the drawing room) and the author mentions that under the table are chamber pots for the guests to relieve themselves! An incidental fact but it does add colour and gives one a mental image that is hard to dispel but the modern bathroom wasn't available in 1767!
I have never had the pleasure of reading from this lady's work before so I am pleased to have now remedied that omission. This was a greatly entertaining story and I very much enjoyed it and urge you to buy a copy.
Terry Halligan, England