In Taylor’s newest historical crime novel (The Scent of Death, 2014, etc.), Edward Savill, home in London after working for the American Department in New York during the Revolutionary War, must deal with a shocking personal crisis.
Savill has left government to work as a property agent for foreign investors, but then comes unexpected news from Rampton, the former American Department head: he says his niece, Savill’s long-estranged wife, Augusta, has been killed in revolutionary Paris. She’s left a 10-year-old son, Charles, father unknown, who's been brought to England and left at Charnwood, near Bath, under the care of French refugees Fournier, a former cleric who may be an atheist; Count de Quillon, who "dabbl[ed] with the Revolution when it suited his purpose"; and their physician, Dr. Gohlis. Rampton, who's chief of the mysterious Black Letter Office, tells Savill he wants him to fetch the boy, an important task because there are "elements that have to do with the safety of the kingdom and the impending war with France." Savill is a cautious, intelligent protagonist, but he turns relentless after Charles is kidnapped and taken to London. Taylor’s mystery is a true puzzler, but it’s his mastery of life in chaotic Paris and London in 1792 that dazzles, and his portrayal of Charles, who was struck mute after his mother’s killers terrorized him, is empathetic. The boy counts compulsively—"measurements make a fortress of facts that protects him as he sleeps"—and adopts an écorché, a corpse transmuted into an anatomical model, as a friend. Motives push and pull. The count claims to be Charles' father. Rampton wants an heir. Savill feels a moral obligation to the child of a woman he once loved. As characters travel across England on nearly impassable muddy, rutted roads and stop at crude inns serving chicken, chops, and sherry, Taylor offers a readable take on social mores, class interactions, and great houses populated by aristocrats "icily elegant, ambitious to the point of ruthlessness."
A touch of intrigue, a soupçon of espionage, wrapped in tense and suspense-laden mystery.