Too Much of Water by L.C. Tyler: Fast-paced story bristling with adventure - book review -
When the Admiralty’s candidate for an upcoming by-election is found dead in a fishing net, it seems that any hopes of bribing a way to victory are now well and truly washed up.
But did the brutish and foul-mouthed Admiral Sir Robert Digges die in an accidental drowning – as the coroner has ruled – or was he murdered? With powerful adversaries ranged against him, it won’t be an easy case for John Grey, Justice of the Peace, former royal spy… and a man who finds his fuel in cynicism.
If you haven’t yet enjoyed the black humour and dark deeds that make L.C. Tyler’s dazzling John Grey series such an original and unmissable treat, then dive in now and discover real history brought to glorious life with the perfect blend of wit, stand-out characterisation, and a fascinating mystery.
Perhaps best known for his superb Herring comedy series starring hilarious author and agent duo Ethelred Tressider and Elsie Thirkettle, Tyler is a former civil servant and a past chair of the Crime Writers Association.
His current speciality is the John Grey series featuring a clever, sardonic lawyer operating during the reign of the restored King Charles II, and frequently finding himself caught up in labyrinthine skulduggery and daring double dealing.
And what we get is Tyler at his entertaining best… a Restoration crime romp delivered with a wealth of research and verbal artistry, creating a delicious slice of history in all its dark, dank and deadly reality, and a veritable stage show of witty one-liners wrapped up in an enthralling mystery adventure.
In Eastwold in 1670, local legend tells how on a still night, if you stand on the beach there, you can still hear the bells of the drowned church of St James tolling mournfully beneath the waves.
But Eastwold, once one of England’s greatest ports, has been fighting a losing battle with the sea ever since it was granted its charter by King John. Bit by bit the waves have eaten the soft cliffs on which it stands, until only a handful of houses remain.
However, the town still sends two MPs to Parliament and rich men from London are prepared to pay well for the votes of the dozen or so remaining burgesses of the town. The voters are looking forward to a profitable by-election until the Admiralty candidate, the unpopular Admiral Digges, ends up every bit as drowned as his prospective constituency.
The coroner rules his death an accident but the Admiralty fear their candidate has been murdered and John Grey in London receives a request from the authorities to uncover the truth.
Hot on his heels is Samuel Pepys, Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, who has been sent by his master, the Duke of York, to stand for the watery seat in place of Digges. He also brings Grey clarification of what kinds of ‘truth’ the Duke is happy for him to uncover… and what he should ignore.
With spring edging cautiously towards the windswept east coast, Grey starts to question the remaining residents and other well-paid officials of the non-existent town. He soon meets suspicion and polite obstruction from the voters but then there is another suspicious death.
Will Grey uncover the murderer before the last of the town vanishes beneath the waves? As one of locals warns him, ‘This is a troubled place, Sir John. It is a dead town. Can you not feel that? Have you not seen the bones that litter the beach? It is a dead town that cries to be buried and forgotten.’
Tyler certainly knows his stuff but, with a twinkle in his eye, he brings us history and mystery with the lightest – and most enjoyable – of touches as the essentially Puritan Grey trades barbs with his inveterately Royalist wife Aminta, spars with the inimitable Samuel Pepys, and all the while racing against time to unearth the truth.
The backdrop for the seventh book in this enjoyable series is Eastwold, a fictional drowning town loosely based on Dunwich in Suffolk where the sandy coastline has been receding rapidly for almost as long as written records exist and which was once ‘equal if not superior to London.’
With its fast-paced story bristling with adventure, engaging characters both real and fictional, and a thrilling plot peppered with devilish serpentine twists and caustic one-liners, Too Much of Water is an excellent addition to this sparkling series.
(Constable, hardback, £21.99)