Enfilade

New Books | Historical Fiction

Posted in books by Editor on January 14, 2020

Recent historical fiction set in the eighteenth century . . . with a strand of Nordic noir woven in:

Niklas Natt och Dag, The Wolf and the Watchman (New York: Atria, 2019), 384 pages, ISBN: 978-1501196775, $28. [Originally published in Swedish as 1793.]

One morning in the autumn of 1793, watchman Mikel Cardell is awakened from his drunken slumber with reports of a body seen floating in the Larder, once a pristine lake on Stockholm’s Southern Isle, now a rancid bog. Efforts to identify the bizarrely mutilated corpse are entrusted to incorruptible lawyer Cecil Winge, who enlists Cardell’s help to solve the case. But time is short: Winge’s health is failing, the monarchy is in shambles, and whispered conspiracies and paranoia abound. Winge and Cardell become immersed in a brutal world of guttersnipes and thieves, mercenaries and madams. From a farmer’s son who is led down a treacherous path when he seeks his fortune in the capital to an orphan girl consigned to the workhouse by a pitiless parish priest, their gruesome investigation peels back layer upon layer of the city’s labyrinthine society. The rich and the poor, the pious and the fallen, the living and the dead—all collide and interconnect with the body pulled from the lake. Breathtakingly bold and intricately constructed, The Wolf and the Watchman brings to life the crowded streets, gilded palaces, and dark corners of late-eighteenth-century Stockholm, offering a startling vision of the crimes we commit in the name of justice, and the sacrifices we make in order to survive.

Niklas Natt och Dag (‘Night and Day’) is a member of the oldest surviving noble family in Sweden. He enjoys playing the guitar, mandolin, violin, and the Japanese bamboo flute. The Wolf and the Watchman, his first novel, was named the Best Debut of 2017 by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers and is being published in thirty countries. He lives in Stockholm with his wife and their two sons.

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Dexter Palmer, Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen: A Novel (New York: Pantheon, 2019), 336 pages, ISBN: 978-1101871935, $28.

In 1726, in the town of Godalming, England, a woman confounded the nation’s medical community by giving birth to seventeen rabbits. This astonishing true story is the basis for Dexter Palmer’s stunning, powerfully evocative new novel.

Surgeon’s apprentice Zachary Walsh knows that his master, John Howard, prides himself on his rationality. But John cannot explain how or why Mary Toft, the wife of a local journeyman, has managed to give birth to a dead rabbit. When this singular event be­comes a regular occurrence, John and Zach­ary realize that nothing in their experience as rural physicians has prepared them to deal with a situation like this—strange, troubling, and possibly miraculous. John contacts sev­eral of London’s finest surgeons, three of whom soon arrive in Godalming to observe, argue, and perhaps use the case to cultivate their own fame.

When King George I learns of Mary’s plight, she and her doctors are summoned to London, where Zachary experiences a world far removed from his small-town ex­istence and is exposed to some of the dark­est corners of the human soul. All the while Mary lies in bed, as doubts begin to blossom among her caretakers and a growing group of onlookers waits with impatience for an­other birth, another miracle.

Dexter Palmer is the author of two previous novels: Version Control, which was selected as one of the best novels of 2016 by GQ, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other publications, and The Dream of Per­petual Motion, which was selected as one of the best fiction debuts of 2010 by Kirkus Re­views. He lives in Princeton.

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Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Blood & Sugar (Mantle Books, 2019), 448 pages, ISBN: 978-1509880775, £15.

Blood & Sugar is the thrilling debut historical crime novel from Laura Shepherd-Robinson. June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock—horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark. Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham—a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career—is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . .

To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him. And that is only if he can survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford . . .

“A page-turner of a crime thriller . . . This is a world conveyed with convincing, terrible clarity.”
–C. J. Sansom

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Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Daughters of Night (Mantle Books, 2020), 448 pages, ISBN: 9781509880829, £15.

From the brothels and gin-shops of Covent Garden to the elegant townhouses of Mayfair, Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Daughters of Night follows Caroline Corsham, as she seeks justice for a murdered woman whom London society would rather forget . . .

Lucia’s fingers found her own. She gazed at Caro as if from a distance. Her lips parted, her words a whisper: ‘He knows.’

London, 1782. Desperate for her politician husband to return home from France, Caroline ‘Caro’ Corsham is already in a state of anxiety when she finds a well-dressed woman mortally wounded in the bowers of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The Bow Street constables are swift to act, until they discover that the deceased woman was a highly-paid prostitute, at which point they cease to care entirely. But Caro has motives of her own for wanting to see justice done, and so sets out to solve the crime herself. Enlisting the help of thieftaker, Peregrine Child, their inquiry delves into the hidden corners of Georgian society, a world of artifice, deception and secret lives. But with many gentlemen refusing to speak about their dealings with the dead woman, and Caro’s own reputation under threat, finding the killer will be harder, and more treacherous than she can know . . .

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