The angel's mark by S. W. Perry
Atlantic Books, 2018. ISBN 9781786494955
(Age: senior secondary to adult) Crime, Elizabethan England, Medicine, Superstition, Childbirth, Women, London. Steeped in the life and times of the later years of Elizabethan England, this story of the investigation into bodies found with an upside crucifix carved into them will have the readers enthralled. Nicholas Shelby, an aspiring physician at a time when doctors used medicinal herbs to deal with the most advanced of diseases, and where surgery was undertaken by the local butcher, loses his faith when his wife dies in childbirth. Unable to cope with a god that allows this to happen, and made very aware of the limits of his knowledge, he falls into a stunning decline, to the point where he throws himself into the Thames. Saved by a young woman, a tavern owner called Bianca, he realises after a few weeks that she has been using medicines that he has only read about. Eventually the two are able to share information, Bianca having a vast knowledge from her time spent as a child in Padua, where both men and women practise medicine. But here in London she must take care, women such as she are burnt as witches, any fool wanting to cause trouble able to make an accusation.
But Nicholas saw the body of a child dragged from the river, emblazoned with the carving and he knows that it was not a drowning, as certified by the coroner.
When he sees another with the same disfigurement, he and Bianca set out to find an answer. But their lives are interrupted by Robert Cecil, a master spy, doing the Queen's business rooting out Catholic conspiracies, and when Shelby plans a visit to the house of John Lumley, Cecil forces him to spy.
With Spain meddling in England's affairs, and the queen not as strong as she once was, plots abound as people vie for power, making this is a riveting historical read. Descriptions of London's streets form an amazing backdrop, the descriptions of palaces and luxury just as beguiling, while the two main characters set against these impossible times evoke our sympathies as they rail against injustice and coercion. The stunning conclusion brings all of these themes together in a most intriguing way, making sure the second in the series, The serpent's mark to be released in June 2019, is watched for.