Shortlisted for Book of the Month
The plague that has been ravaging London in 1666 is at last abating, the English war against the Dutch is still being fought at sea, and old feelings left over from the English Civil Wars are still affecting families who were divided by personal belief and loyalties. In one such family, Cromwell supporter Lord Pilcher despises his grandson, Geoffrey, who went with Charles II into exile. Such feuds ran deep, and Lord Pilcher refuses to have anything to do with with Geoffrey when he returns to England, which includes denying him his rightful inheritance. This causes a problem for our hero, so he becoming a highwayman, calling himself Gentleman Jack.
Meanwhile, young Londoners, Erasmus and Desiderius are destitute after the death of their parents. They meet up with Gentleman Jack and assist with hiding his ill-gotten gains. But another rogue is impersonating Gentleman Jack and staying out of the clutches of the constables, thief-takers and the sheriff is not easy. And then a fire starts in London’s Pudding Lane…
All of which makes for a darn good entertaining, exciting and absorbing adventure story. Ms Pym brings the London streets, decimated by plague and then turned into an inferno of fire quite brilliantly to life, with the sights, sounds and smells, the confusion and fear. The characters are skilfully drawn, with their occasional bawdy language of the period and nice touches of amusing humour balancing the chases, near-misses of danger and potential disaster and the sheer drudgery of having to survive from one day to the next.
I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and was delighted to discover that this tale links with others by Ms Pym. I’ll be looking out for them. I think I can be so bold as to say that The Highwayman might be one of the best stories I’ve read about the year 1666 and the Great Fire of London
© Ellen Hill
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