Wednesday 23 December 2020

The Plague Letters - V.L. Valentine


London, 1665. Hidden within a growing pile of corpses, one victim of the pestilence stands out: a young woman with a shorn head and pieces of twine delicately tied around each ankle.

Symon Patrick, rector of St. Paul's Covent Garden, cannot say exactly why this corpse amongst the many in his churchyard should give him pause. Longing to do good, he joins a group of medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague, each man more peculiar and splenetic than the next. But there is another, unknown to The Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague, who is performing his own terrible experiments upon unwilling plague-ridden subjects.

It is Penelope - Symon's unwanted yet unremovable addition to his household - who may yet shed light on the matter. Far more than what she appears, she is already on the hunt. But the dark presence that enters the houses of the sick will not stop, and has no mercy...

What did I think?

Set in 1665 during the Great Plague of London, I am amazed by how much The Plague Letters shows shocking similarities to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.  Written well before Covid-19 was even a twinkle in a bat's eye, it's well worth reading just to prove that we will never learn, not even from history.

As doctors race to develop a cure, a murderer is roaming the streets of London experimenting on the sick and dying.  Rector Symon and his sidekick Penelope become somewhat amateur sleuths as they follow the corpses to lead them to the killer.  It's mainly Penelope really as Symon is completely smitten with a married woman and he would much rather sit at home reading her letters and dreaming of an impossible future.

Whilst I was intrigued by the murders, it was the spread of plague that completely mesmerised me and that brings me on to an element of the book that I thought was a fantastic addition but only if you read The Plague Letters as a physical book (unfortunately, I read an ebook).  I will always choose a physical book over a kindle copy mainly because I love the feel of a book in my hands, but there are also a lot of features that just don't work in kindle.  In this case, a map of London is interspersed between the chapters showing the spread of plague moving across London in red.  This would have been a very dramatic graphic if kindle could only show colours.

Other than the enigma that is Penelope, and Symon's cute little cat that said 'mweep', I didn't really connect with any of the characters.  Symon is wetter than a wet weekend in Skegness and I just wanted to give him a shake to make him stop obsessing over Elizabeth.  The other medical men seemed to all merge into one and I couldn't really separate them in my mind, although there is a very useful cast of characters at the start of the book but it's not so easy to flick back and forth on a kindle as you could so easily do with a physical book.  I call Penelope an enigma as I'm not really sure what her role is in Symon's household; she seems to annoy Symon a lot of the time but he doesn't even consider getting rid of her.  The air of mystery surrounding her certainly adds to the intrigue of her character.

The Plague Letters may be historical fiction but it's like reading about the present day.  Shocking in its similarities to 2020, it's a very well written novel with a murderous twist.

Thank you to Viper Books for approving my NetGalley request to read an ebook; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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