I have previously been much enamoured of Gregory’s Mathew Bartholomew series set in mid 14th century Cambridge, but I hadn’t yet come across Thomas Chaloner. The Butcher of Smithfield is apparently the third Chaloner novel, and I’m sorry to have missed the first two as Chaloner is an engaging character. Unlike Bartholomew who was a doctor, Chaloner is a Restoration spy. This is a period I am not hugely familiar with, but I have read several Restoration set mysteries over the last few years e.g. Parliament House by Edward Marston and this is far superior.
After four months away on a special mission, Chaloner returns to a London slowly sinking into the mire, both literally and figuratively. It never stops raining, and shady characters abound. One of these, who runs a protection racket centred on Smithfield market has gone and got himself murdered… perhaps, although the general assumption is that he has died from a surfeit of cucumbers. Chaloner’s boss, the Lord Chancellor wants him to investigate, but he’s not keen, wanting to find out why a friend needed to speak to him urgently but then died. Strangely, this friend also seems to have died from too many cucumbers. The chase begins, galloping us along to a conclusion that neatly links everything with a twist I certainly never guessed, although I was near.
Susanna Gregory on Wikipedia