Cue drum roll…
As you can tell from the cover, the centrepiece of the action is the Great Fire of London, the 350th anniversary of which occurs over the weekend of 2-4 September. (I’ll be in Oxford on those dates, and will be talking about the book on a panel at the Historical Novel Society conference.) Naturally, though, Death’s Bright Angel has a distinctly nautical take on the well-known story: not only does it begin with a duel between Matthew Quinton’s command, the Royal Sceptre, and a powerful French man-of-war, but a substantial part of the action takes place during the attack on Dutch shipping at the islands of Vlie and Terschelling, an event known to British history as ‘Sir Robert Holmes’ bonfire’ and to the Dutch as ‘the English fury’. Readers of the series will remember that Holmes is an old friend of Matthew’s, so it was very easy to get my hero into the real, and very dramatic, historical events!
The ‘bonfire’ occurred only three weeks before the Great Fire of London, and many contemporaries believed the one was revenge for the other. Death’s Bright Angel takes this idea, adds in elements from the many rumours and actual conspiracies that were swirling around during 1666, and places Matthew at the heart of a desperate race against time to prevent a devastating ‘terrorist’ attack. This, in turn, throws him into the worst crisis he has ever faced in his personal life… All of these plot strands intertwine and reach their climax during the Great Fire itself, as Matthew and his friends battle their way through the streets of a blazing city.
The thing that really makes Death’s Bright Angel different, though, is that it’s effectively ‘two books in one’. During the course of my research, I started to realise that a number of critical questions about how and why the Great Fire of London began had never really been asked, let alone answered, in all the previous published histories of this famous event, so I put my ‘historian’ hat back on and started doing some serious digging. Some aspects of what I discovered have gone into the main story of the novel, but many others are in a detailed ‘historical investigation’ – which is as long as many stand-alone e-books! This presents a large amount of previously unknown evidence about the Great Fire and the various conspiracy theories that surrounded it, both at the time and since. Above all, it presents an entirely new take on the long-accepted orthodoxy that the blaze was definitely an accident, caused by the carelessness of a baker in Pudding Lane.
So am I saying that the Great Fire of London was, or could have been, started deliberately? And if so, by whom??
You’ll have to buy Death’s Bright Angel to find out!