Reviews from Abroad: Conspiracy of Violence by Susanna Gregory

Friday Feb 12 2010
by Michael

One of the problems which I always have with historical fiction is how and in what way historical figures feature into the narrative.  When they are peripheral, even if they have an important role to play, it is a much easier thing for me to read than if they are featured as major characters.  That being said, if skilfully done, or written about an era or a region with which I am unfamiliar of the true nature of the figures, I can look past my bias and find myself enjoying the story a great deal.

The problem is one that is doubtlessly even more difficult to deal with when writing about political conspiracies, Such is the case of Susanna Gregory's Restoration era thriller 'Conspiracy of Violence'.  Known for her 14th century physician Matthew Bartholomew, Conspiracay of Violence is the first in her series featuring the English spy Thomas Chaloner. 

Overall, my bias against the inclusion of historical figures seemed well held.  The actions of Samuel Pepys, Richard Ingoldsby and others who feature in this novel could very well be accurate to their actual natures, but they are not well rounded enough as characters to ignore the niggling feeling that rises in my mind.

Gregory does however, fall prey to one of the worst traps that any historical fiction writer can find themselves in; facetiousness.  Particularly when dealing with this period in England where so much is changing, and so quickly, to make a rather thinly veiled joke about tea-drinking never catching on as Gregory does neither adds to the story or her credibility as a writer who will properly present historical figures.

That all being said, the fictitious characters are quite enjoyable, and the plot twists back and forth quite nicely, with enough extraneous information to keep the reader guessing and an (hopefully) well researched picture of Restoration London which evokes images of the city before the Great Fire. 

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