Rags of Time opens in the crowded, bustling city of London in 1639. Thomas Tallant, son of a well-to-do merchant Sir Ralph Tallant, has returned from India with a cargo of valuable spices. There is no shore leave for Thomas, however. These are turbulent, dangerous times and before he can even get his land legs, Thomas is thrown into a murder inquiry, supposedly due to his knowledge of falconry. This death is followed by another wealthy merchant tumbling headlong down a flight of stairs claiming he was being attacked by demons. Then Thomas finds himself under suspicion of murder.
The crimes at the centre of this story are cleverly woven into the zeitgeist of the moment along with the problems facing city merchants, all of which relates back to the strife between King and Parliament, between the Old Religion, Protestantism and the rise of Puritanism.
The murder mystery is ingenious, but it has to be said that the author uses some rather long-winded, laden dialogue to convey the historical background. Michael Ward knows his epoch inside out and is anxious to share its detail: it is a complex period, nothing at the time was as clear cut as the manner in which the later Civil War is often presented. Having said that, Ward’s evocative description of the city and its inhabitants, the sights and smells of the teeming Thames basin brings the story to life. The inclusion of some famous and infamous real people such as the herbalist Thomas Culpeper and Henry Jermyn, Queen Henrietta Maria’s confidant, is an additional bonus.
Running alongside the mystery and intrigue, the political ins and outs, there is a plausible and charming love story as Thomas becomes enthralled by a highly intelligent, pipe-smoking young woman, who is also addicted to gambling. Can her smart thinking and mathematical mind solve the mystery and save Thomas from the gallows, though?
Rags of Time is a worthwhile and enjoyable read, and the ‘who-dunnit’ element should keep you guessing to the end. This is the first in a historical crime series and I look forward to reading the next.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© John Darling