Thomas Tallant, a young and ambitious Spice Merchant, returns from India to find his city in turmoil. A bitter struggle is brewing between King Charles I and Parliament, as England slides into civil war. The capital is simmering with dissent. The conflict is ready to boil over.
But Thomas soon has other troubles to contend with. A wealthy merchant, Sir Joseph Venell, is savagely killed; then his partner Sir Hugh Swofford plunges to his death, in the Tallant household. Suspicion falls on Thomas, who is sucked into a mire of treachery and rumour within the City of London. As the merchant struggles to clear his name, he becomes captivated by the enigmatic Elizabeth Seymour, whose passion for astronomy and mathematics is matched only by her addiction to the gaming tables.
Pursued by the authorities, Thomas races to unmask the real killer who claims a third victim to implicate him further, toying with his future in a deadly cat and mouse game. In a desperate race against time, Elizabeth applies her powers of logic and deduction to unearth the clues that will point to the killer, but her way is barred by a secret message from the grave.
Can she crack its code before Thomas, now a wounded and exhausted fugitive, succumbs to the chase? And, if she succeeds, has Thomas the strength to face his tormentor and win his life and reputation back?
In the days of King Charles I, our protagonist Thomas Tallant, spice merchant, has just returned from a long sea voyage only to find himself a prime suspect in a freaky murder of a wealthy wool merchant. He spends the rest of the book trying to free himself from suspicion, though inadvertently other mysterious incidents serve to make his situation worse rather than better. Innocents die—or get murdered—along the way as the plot thickens. It seems his nationality—he is Dutch—plays a big part in his misfortunes:
Tom, you must tread carefully and keep your wits about you, particularly in the City. Your mother has lived unmolested in this country for over twenty-five years. She feels at home in England. But the City can be a snake pit. It’s a world of its own, with its own rules. You must never forget that. People far cleverer than you and I have been chewed up and spat out, broken. Do you understand?
Throughout, we get a good feeling for what life was like in 17th century London and the story line moves along quickly and smoothly. Although I admit I had trouble swallowing the ease with which the authorities accused Thomas of murder—the evidence was non-existent, frankly—I found the book interesting enough to finish. I didn’t guess who was manipulating events, so I was in “mystery” until the end.