If you enjoy reading about the bubonic plague, and yes I know it sounds morbid, you really do need to read ‘The Plague Road’ by L.C. Tyler
Based partly on fact, with an added indulgence of the fictional kind, The Plague Road, highlights just how hard it must have been to live in Britain during the time of the plague.
What is The Plague Road really about?
This novel will transport you back in time to 1665 when life in London would have been far more uncertain. The bubonic plague was not picky; it was not a disease that was class-proof. You could not simply avoid contagion because you were wealthy. It was a disease ripping the heart out of a country and no-one during that era could understand why.
“If the poor are dying, then they have nobody to blame but themselves. An alderman I know has assured me that the Plague has spread entirely because of the filthy habits of the lower-class inhabitants.” (Page 21)
Whilst this is a fictional work, with fictional characters and concepts this is a theory that was spread widely around the country meaning that unless you were gentry you would struggle to move unhindered anywhere outside the inner walls of the city.
But what about the gentry class; did they find commuting the country easy?
This is a story narrated by John Grey, a lawyer and someone that would have been seen in good light by many. A gentleman who, because of his position in life and where his lodgings were would have been considered clean and untouched by the deadly disease.
Nonetheless, because of some of the miscreants he dealt with, his health would always come under scrutiny.
He was however, also seen by the higher classes as someone who could be trusted. Therefore, it was not unusual for Mr Grey to be seen in the company of Lord Arlington, Lady Castlemaine or Samuel Pepys.
The Plague Road starts as you would imagine, describing the terrible conditions of the plague.
No-one was safe and after the previous plague, known as the Black Death of 1348, people had become wary of any signs indicating that you were a carrier of the illness. Plague symptoms included nausea and vomiting, fever and chills, weakness, bleeding and skin turning gangrene. So even if you had just a common cold, it was not unusual to be locked in your home for 40 days, with a red cross marked on your door highlighting to all that walked passed that you had become yet another unfortunate victim of the times.
It would therefore, be very unfortunate indeed to sneeze in front of the Searchers of the Dead.
Whilst the death of many can be put down to this nasty condition, it was not regrettably the only cause of death in London. It would seem that one man has met his demise at the hand of another. Mr Fincham, a actor and at one time soldier, has clearly upset someone enough to be stabbed in the back and left to die in a darkened alley alongside others suffering an excruciatingly painful death after being contaminated with the plague.
Death and Deceit at the Hand of Another
Why is an act of murder never straight-forward? Even during these dark times, it seems that the life of someone can still be taken by the hand of another for the benefit of self- improvement and individual gain.
But who will ultimately gain from this? Will it be John Grey? Samuel Pepys? Perhaps someone far superior is behind this evil act.
Fincham was carrying a letter now in the possession of another. Who? That is still unclear as is the contents of this letter. All that is known is that it could send the country into turmoil and cause the King to be overthrown so something needs to be done. No matter what the cost to others the crown must be protected which is why John Grey has been employed. He has to not only find the letter but also prevent it falling into the wrong hands – but how does he know if he hands it to the wrong person?
This is a novel about more than just the plague sweeping across the country. This is an account of mistrust and deceit, of political greed and potential treason against the crown.
Would We Recommend The Plague Road?
If you are a person that enjoys reading books loosely based on historical facts than I would most certainly recommend this novel to you. If however, you are a person who will over-analyse whether elements are fact or fiction I would question whether this is the book for you. The author, L.C. Tyler clearly highlights, at the end, which aspects of the book are fact and stresses that he knows other parts are complete fabrication. Therefore, this is not a novel where historical accuracy is of paramount importance. It is instead a crime novel where murder unfortunately takes place during the same time as a tragic period in London’s history.
Is this the book for you? Have you read something with a similar theme? We would love to hear your recommendations.
Are you a fan of historical fiction? If so, perhaps you would prefer this novel written by Eleanor Catton.