The Poison Machine by Robert J. Lloyd is an absolute cracker of a book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading and whole-heartedly recommend to lovers of suspense, crime, and historical fiction. It is the sequel to The Bloodless Boy but is very readable on its own.
The protagonist, Harry Hunt, ex-apprentice to Robert Hook of the Royal Society, is charged with solving the murder of the Queen’s dwarf. But as word spreads that he is solving this crime he is approached by a Countess to find a missing/stolen diamond and to find a man now impersonating the Queen’s murdered dwarf in France. In doing so, Harry discovers an elaborate plot to kill the Queen of England and this becomes the book’s central plot line.
When in Paris, staying with the Countess’ sister, Harry has his letter of introduction stolen and soon falls foul of Paris’ head bureaucrat. Very soon he is arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille from where he escapes with the help of an inventor’s flying apparatus. He, a trusted friend and ally and the dwarf whom he found in Paris, make their way back to the coast and then across the channel to London where they begin in earnest to solve the plot against the Queen’s life.
I’d like to share more of the plot but the second half of the book is all unravelling the conspiracies and double-crossings and building to the big finish and it’s all simply too well-crafted to reveal any of that here.
The book is superbly written, borrowing quirky language from the era and using occasional sentences in French for authenticity. The plot is relatively simple and easy to follow. There backdrop of intellectual and scientific discovery through the Royal Society gives the book a strong sense of place in time. The characters, the main ones as well as the supporting characters, are crafted magnificently with eloquent descriptions of both physical appearance and behavior. The book develops some strong relationships between the characters to give the whole story authenticity. All of that is excellent, but the last chapter is a simple and satisfying resolution to the whole story.