Death in St James Park
Date Published17 October 2013
Price£ 8.99

Death in St. James's Park

by Susanna Gregory

Thomas Chaloner, spy for the Earl of Clarendon, comes across a wood cart primed to explode outside the General Letter Office. Contrary to the norm, he is not given the job to investigate it but instead is diverted to investigate poisoned birds in St James’s Park. What is afoot?


Thomas Chaloner works as a spy for the Earl of Clarendon who appears to be falling out of favour in the rowdy court of King Charles II.  Chaloner himself feels that his own job is threatened by a member of the Earl’s staff, Marshal Gery, who recently has been appointed above him.

When Chaloner is sent to arrest two Post Office clerks at the General Letter Office, his suspicions of a plot are aroused, and then confirmed when subsequently he comes across a cart of wood which explodes right outside the General Letter Office. More mystifying still is the fact that the Earl sets Gery to investigate the Post Office and Chaloner to investigate a couple of birds that have been poisoned in St James’s Park. The story follows Chalenor’s attempts to protect the Earl, whilst still following his instructions about the birds.

Reading one of the Chaloner mysteries is a very familiar and comfortable way to find a bit of escapism. Chaloner is a good man who works hard to put his 18th century world to rights. This world is described in pleasing detail throughout the book. For example, there is information here about the various types of establishment where the daily worker could eat in London at this time: coffee houses, inns, taverns, and 'ordinaries', and there are very clear descriptions of places of interest, such as the area where live poultry is taken in order to be prepared for the table. The descriptions of ordinary streets include mention of detail such as the existence as a common feature of these times, of red kites on the roofs waiting to scavenge in the streets. This is not the sort of information that can be gleaned from more conventional history sources and provides an ideal way to educate through the medium of story-telling.

The pace of the story ebbs and flows throughout the book. Fights and chases provide much of the action whilst more gentle passages often comprise what the characters see and hear. A small niggle early on is the sheer number of characters introduced in a short space of time, although with repetition as the story progresses it is possible for the reader to become familiar with them all before too long. At times it is helpful that a recap is given in the guise of Chaloner reminding himself what he has to do next. Unfortunately the denouement is quite complex and slightly loses its punch in the cacophony of all the action.

The story is basically a good yarn set in a historical context. It does not try to do anything else, no issues are raised, nor is anything written to provoke discussion or dissent. Although there is a historical note at the end of the book, its status is uncertain as there are no references.  Overall however the story is a good read and most enjoyable as always.

Reviewed 08 February 2014 by Sylvia Maughan