1666 is famous for being the year of the Great Fire of London. For the religious sect known as the Fifth Monarchists it was also the year in which they believed the monarchy would be overthrown, clearing the way for the kingdom of Jesus. These two events form the basis of C.C. Humphreys’ new novel, Fire, a sequel to Plague, which I read in 2014. Don’t worry if you haven’t had the opportunity to read Plague yet – you will still be able to understand and enjoy Fire, which works as an exciting historical thriller in its own right as well as being a sequel.
As the novel opens we are reacquainted with our old friends, Captain Coke, a reformed highwayman, and Pitman, a ‘thief-taker’. These two men fought on opposite sides in the recent Civil War, but have now formed an unlikely partnership to fight crime in the London area. With Charles II the target of a plot by the Fifth Monarchists, Coke and Pitman have been given the task of foiling the attempt on the king’s life. Assisted by Dickon, a young homeless boy rescued by Coke from a life on the streets, the pair begin to investigate, determined to save the king even if it means putting their own lives in danger.
It’s not only themselves they need to worry about, of course. Pitman is a married man with children, while Coke’s lover, the actress Sarah Chalker, is pregnant. Acting is not considered a suitable career for a respectable woman, but Sarah enjoys it and relies on it as a source of income. Unable to work because of her pregnancy, Sarah is left alone and penniless when Coke finds himself the victim of a cruel betrayal. And then, in the early hours of a September morning, a fire breaks out at Thomas Farriner’s bakery on Pudding Lane…
Fire is an enjoyable read and a fascinating journey through 17th century London life. I’ll have to be honest and say that it’s maybe not the deepest or most literary of historical novels but, like Plague, it’s entertaining and fun to read. Before I started reading I had been afraid that it might be too similar to another book I read earlier this year – The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor – which is also set during the Great Fire of London and features a plot by the Fifth Monarchists, but the two books are actually completely different.
This is an action-packed novel, taking us to a variety of different settings. We visit the theatre for a production of Hamlet, we find out what conditions were like for those unlucky men pressed into the navy against their will, and we see inside a debtors’ prison, where women and children live in squalor praying that their fortunes will change soon. A map is provided at the front of the book to help us locate each of the London sites mentioned in the story and to show how the fire spreads and progresses day by day.
Something that surprised me about this novel is that the Great Fire itself doesn’t start until we are more than halfway through the book. Instead, Humphreys spends most of the novel setting the scene, moving the characters into place, so that by the time the fire breaks out we are already emotionally invested in the story and are desperate to find out whether our heroes and heroines can find their way out of the dangerous situations they are in.
If C.C. Humphreys brings some of these characters back for a third adventure, I would love to read it; otherwise I’ll investigate his earlier books – I’ve already read Vlad: The Last Confession, but some of his others look interesting too.
Thanks to Century for providing a copy of this book for review.