In this thrilling and addictive sequel to The Bloodless Boy, Harry Hunt must go to Paris in search of a spy and imposter who has knowledge of a plot to kill the Queen of England…
– The Poison Machine
[ About the Book ]
1679. A year has passed since the sensational attempt to murder King Charles II. London is still inflamed by fears of Catholic plots. Harry Hunt—estranged from his mentor Robert Hooke and no longer employed by the Royal Society—meets Sir Jonas Moore, the King’s Surveyor-General of the Board of Ordnance, in the remote and windswept marshes of Norfolk. There, workers draining the fenland have uncovered a skeleton.
Accompanied by his friend Colonel Fields, an old soldier for Parliament, and Hooke’s niece, Grace, Harry confirms Sir Jonas’s suspicion: the body is that of a dwarf, Captain Jeffrey Hudson, once famously given to Queen Henrietta Maria in a pie. During the Civil Wars, Hudson accompanied the Queen to France to sell the Royal Jewels to fund her husband’s army. He was sent home in disgrace after shooting a man in a duel.
But nobody knew Hudson was dead. Another man, working as a spy, has lived as him since his murder. Now, this impostor has disappeared, taking vital information with him. Sir Jonas orders Harry to find him.
With the help of clues left in a book, a flying man, and a crossdressing swordswoman, Harry’s search takes him to Paris, another city bedeviled by conspiracies and intrigues. He navigates its salons and libraries, and learns of a terrible plot against the current Queen of England, Catherine of Bragança, and her gathering of Catholics in London. Assassins plan to poison them all.
[ My Review ]
The Poison Machine by Robert J. Lloyd published October 25th with Melville House and I am absolutely thrilled to be kick-starting the blog tour today with my review, alongside Juliet over at Bookliterati Book Reviews. The Poison Machine is described as ‘a nail-biting and brilliantly imagined historical thriller that will delight readers of its critically acclaimed predecessor The Bloodless Boy.‘ While The Poison Machine is a sequel to The Bloodless Boy, it can easily be read as a stand-alone novel.
‘Packed with historical detail, the book contains a cast of real-life characters, including Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, King Charles II and his wife, Queen Catherine of Braganza. It continues the adventures of scientist-turned detectives, Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke, exploring early scientific Enlightenment and the ideas and conspiracies of the time’ – Melville House
London 1679 is the setting for The Poison Machine. Harry Hunt is trying to make a positive impression in front of his cohorts at the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge. He has ambition to succeed his mentor Robert Hooke as the Curator of Experiments with a planned demonstration that would show off his capabilities and strengths but alas all does not go to plan. After a failed experiment, Hunt is embarrassed, ashamed and licking his wounds when a distracting opportunity comes his way. He is offered a lucrative position as an investigator with the Board of Ordnance which requires him to travel to the Fens where a body has been uncovered.
Hunt is not necessarily happy with the decision he has made, but there is a constant feeling of inadequacy that accompanies him everywhere and this job with the Board of Ordnance might just be what he needs to shake his life up a little. An old acquaintance, Colonel Michael Fields accompanies Hunt on this arduous journey, with the very unexpected company of Grace Hooke (Robert Hooke’s niece). On arrival in Norfolk, it is confirmed that the body is that of Captain Jeffrey Hudson, the famed dwarf companion of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I. Hudson had been banished from the Queen’s court after a time for a misdemeanour but nobody had been aware of his death until now. The plot thickens as it is additionally discovered that an imposter has been living as Hudson but has now disappeared. And, if that wasn’t enough there is also word of a diamond that has been missing for many years.
After witnessing Hudson’s body and confirming his identity, Hunt sets off from The Fens on an incredible journey that takes him to Paris, a city as rife with spies and plots as the one he left behind. There are multiple obstacles put in his way but Harry Hunt is a tenacious individual, unwilling to let anything deter him from his final goal.
At that time England, following the Restoration of the monarchy, was under the rule of King Charles II and his wife, Queen Catherine of Braganza. It was a period of great upheaval, where mistrust was very much rife. Queen Catherine was a Catholic who married King Charles II in 1662 as part of an alliance between England and Portugal. By no means a favourite, due to her religious beliefs, she was seen by some as relatively inconsequential, but as Hunt discovers, a covert operation is being undertaken to poison the Queen, alongside many of her Catholic cohorts, at a not-to-distant gathering in London.
With Hunt caught up in very unforeseen circumstances in Paris, the clock is ticking. He needs to get news to London as fast as possible before the nightmarish outcome transpires and a Queen is murdered. Will Hunt be able to stop these devious assassins before it’s too late?
What transpires is an exciting and, at times, swashbuckling, tale of suspense and intrigue. As Hunt gets into more complex situations, the plot thickens and the intensity heightens. In my review of The Bloodless Boy I said that ‘skulduggery and subterfuge, with a dash of science and adventure, all come together to create a seriously cracking and compulsive read‘ and the same applies to The Poison Machine. Both novels are steeped in history, providing wonderful insights to that period and it is a real treat to see real-life characters feature in chapters. This addition of factual people adds an extra layer of authenticity to the story and it is clear that Robert J. Lloyd has done some incredible research to bring this novel to fruition.
The Poison Machine is an excellent addition to this series bringing Hunt out of the lab and developing his personality more as an individual. It is more focused on Hunt, whereas The Bloodless Boy was a combination of both Hooke and Hunt, providing the reader with an exciting tale but also highlighting fascinating insights into the fundamentals of modern science, alongside an intriguing investigation.
Stimulating, riveting and highly entertaining, The Poison Machine is another skilled and thrilling read from this fascinating of writers. Highly recommended!
[ Bio ]
Robert J. Lloyd, the son of parents who worked in the British Foreign Office, grew up in South London, Innsbruck, and Kinshasa. He studied for a Fine Art degree, starting as a landscape painter, but it was while studying for his MA degree in the History of Ideas that he first read Robert Hooke’s diary, detailing the life and experiments of this extraordinary man.
After a twenty-year career as a secondary school teacher, he has now returned to painting and writing.
Twitter ~ @robjlloyd