Book review

Death and the Arrow by Chris Priestley (2003)

London in the year 1715:

... a thick sulphurous fog had taken hold of the city. It was the queasy colour of curdled milk and gripped his throat like a thief. He could see almost nothing in the murk and kept to the wall, dodging the other poor citizens as they coughed their way blindly towards him. He could hear the muffled clatter of horses' hooves and the tick, tock of walking sticks and boot heels; somewhere in the distance cattle were lowing as they made their way to market, and the smells of baking bread, fish, coffee and horse dung competed with the rotten-egg stink of the fog.

This is Tom Marlowe's world. He is apprentice at his father's printing shop under the sign of the Lamb and Lion in Fleet Street.

Actually, a lot of Tom's time is spent delivering completed printing work to customers, so Tom knows the streets of London very well, and the people who live there. His favourite customer is Dr Harker:

'stuffed full of learning'

but he also has a very good friend his own age, Will Piggott, a pickpocket.

When news of a dramatic and gruesome murder becomes the talk of the coffee shop it is just a bit of a diversion from ordinary life:

'Beskewered by an arrow right through his heart ...'

And there's a bit of a puzzle to keep everyone wondering ...:

'In his pocket they finds a card - a calling card, if you like. And you ain't never going to guess what was on it!'
There was a long pause - rather too long - and Dr Harker was forced to break the silence by saying, 'I rather fear that we won't. Could you do us the enormous favour of telling us?'
The coffee house filled with laughter again and the newspaper-seller blushed. 'In his pocket they finds a card,' he repeated, 'and on that card there's an embellishment - a figure of Death, no less, pointing one bony finger and looking like to chuck an arrow with the other hand. New, gents, tell me if that ain't a story or what?'

But events become shockingly close for Tom ...

Now he must investigate, and he's going to need Dr Harker's help. I think they make rather a good team. See what you think.

What can I read next?

If you enjoy historical adventures, I think you might like to look at something by Michael Morpurgo:

If you fancy a full length adventure that you can really get your teeth into, you might consider having a look at this superb story by R L Stevenson - slightly harder language, but not a lot harder:

If you really enjoy the rather over-dramatic, gothic feel to Death and the Arrow, you could have a look at these by Philip Pullman:

Or something by Stephen Elboz. He writes brilliant adventure stories, but not quite in the real world:

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