Title: The Plague Letters
Author: V. L. Valentine
Publisher: Viper Books
Publication day: April 1st 2021
Genre: historical fiction / mystery
Format reviewed: Netgalley e-ARC
Number of pages: 416
MURDER THE DYING…
Hidden within the growing pile of corpses in his churchyard, Rector Symon Patrick discovers a victim of the pestilence unlike any he has seen before: a young woman with a shorn head, covered in burns, and with pieces of twine delicately tied around each wrist and ankle. Desperate to discover the culprit, Symon joins a society of eccentric medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague.
Someone is performing terrible experiments upon the dying, hiding their bodies amongst the hundreds that fill the death carts. Only Penelope – a new and mysterious addition to Symon’s household – may have the skill to find the killer. 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…
This hugely atmospheric and entertaining historical thriller will transport readers to the palaces and alleyways of seventeenth-century London. Perfect for fans of Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Andrew Taylor and C.J. Sansom.
Warning: there is no known cure for what you will experience with The Plague Letters. However, do not fear, for once the first symptoms appear, you will not want the illness to leave you.
Sweet is the book hangover offered to us by V. L. Valentine. Bittersweet is the taste in my mouth as I lay the book to rest. Is it greedy of me to wish for more?
The author’s choice of ingredients for her Plague spell was rather interesting.
London. My favorite city.
A mortal disease. I have a certain (probably unhealthy) fascination for such ordeals.
1666… No, this one was the joker. Usually, historical fiction intimidates me. Will I have the knowledge to understand and appreciate the story? Will the author find the invisible string to connect me to characters who breathed and danced during an era so far from mine? I took the bet.
Disguised murders. Here, my curiosity was sparked and the goosebumps on my arms give away my excitement.
Holy Joly Molly! Better than the Tardis, The Plague Letters drops you in the wilderness of London and its stingy alleys, phantom-like streets, in the middle of a plague pandemic! Boom! As a layperson when it comes to historical fiction, it was a hit or miss. I decided to trust the publisher and push my way through a sick crowd. Did I get ill? Yes. A delicious illness readers can never get enough of. Quickly stricken by the thirst to know more, understand everything, and see with my own eyes, I happily dived into the 17th century Thames. If I feared for a minute that the plague would have me reflect on our present situation, I soon stopped thinking about the here and now. I was fully immersed in the past thanks to an astonishingly perfect prose that reeled me in and kept me firmly standing with Symon, Penelope, and the others. This in itself is a true miracle. Was I thinking about what I knew of old time London? No, I didn’t have to because V. L. Valentine made it easy to create the walls, the gardens, and hear the sounds so everything became familiar very fast. First time ever! No jetlag time during which I have to focus to imagine the surroundings.
Rector Symon Patrick is busy. His heart is full, and so is his parish’s churchyard. The plague is decimating the capital and there is little time for laziness. Weirdly, Symon was one of the last characters I warmed up to. I enjoyed following him around, getting the hang of his job and finding my feet in this century through his eyes. I found his household to be quite unusual, with servants talking back to him! How cheeky! In truth, most characters are colorful and very, very interesting. Is it because they are so far from my usual protagonists? No, I believe it’s due to the knack of the author for creating wonderfully captivating creatures of God! So, who did I root for? Who had me on their side almost right from the beginning?
Meet Penelope. Mysterious character you can’t put in a box. A clever mind, dirty clothes, a past you get snippets of. Original is what I would call her. Yes, I was, and I am #TeamPenelope for without her, this novel inhabited by many men who would not find their hand in the dark, would never have gotten to the bottom of the case…
What case? I hear you ask. The plague is the work of God/Mother Nature/Insert your theory here. Isn’t such terrible threat enough? No, not for everyone… Soon, corpses appear, not only plagued by the disease’s scars but also by a man’s hands… Scary, isn’t it?
I don’t what’s scarier, someone playing with ill people or a bunch of physicians of sorts trying to find a cure for the plague? The mix of those two elements gave the book many layers and gave me a terrible and chilling insight in what was medicine at the time. Thank goodness for our current medical technologies and knowledge!!! There is no room for sentimentality as the houses get abandoned and numbers rise every day. Although I felt the desperation, I was never burdened by as I was too busy cringing at the surgeons, apothecaries, physicians and other imposters’ theories and talks. How dare they talk about unearthing the dead to experiment on them and find a cure… Wait, we do that! I loved how The Plague Letters challenged me to see things through different lenses! When did autopsies become common? Well, not then! As they all fight about whether or not it is a sin to get bodies to examine, someone decides there is no time for such petty discussions and takes matter in their own hands. Penelope is the one who sees it first. Someone is hiding used bodies in the overflowing dead carts of the plague. Like a cat, she smells foul play and embarks Symon in a chase to find the culprit before the illness finds them. I believe I owe my inability to tear myself away from the book to the realism breathed into the pages by the outstanding research and professionalism behind the fiction.
V. L. Valentine knows how to blend mystery, blood, and strong characters. There is never a dull moment in this novel! Grisly murders, dry remarks, the sound of shoes running all over the city, The Plague Letter is a cracking (and murderous) piece of historical fiction. Never before had I been under such a spell!
Happy publication day, lovely Vikki!
You can now get your copy of The Plague Letters here!
My biggest thanks to the Viper Books team for inviting me to be part of this tour and for allowing me to kick it off with an honest review.