The Bloodless Boy
Robert J. Lloyd
London, 1678. The blood-drained body of a young boy is discovered in the snow on the bank of the Fleet River. Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, Justice of the Peace, sets out to investigate this sinister killing with the help of Robert Hooke, Curator of Experiments at the Royal Society, and his assistant Harry Hunt. On Sir Edmund’s orders Hooke and Harry preserve the body as evidence at Gresham College.
When a solicitor delivers a coded letter to Hooke, he recognises the code as being one used during the Civil War thirty years before, and discovers that Sir Edmund had in fact used it at that time to assist King Charles II’s escape to France. Hooke becomes suspicious of Sir Edmund and forbids Harry from continuing the investigation. But Harry ignores Hooke’s warnings.
Meanwhile, we’re introduced to the Earl of Shaftesbury, his secretary John Locke, and Lefèvre, an assassin. They are plotting against the King and intend to exploit the anti-Catholic feeling in London to cast blame for the plot on innocent Catholics. Shaftesbury’s employees give false evidence to Sir Edmund about the dead boy, and as they intended, rumours start to spread of a Catholic plot and the finding of a ‘devil-boy’ drained of his blood.
When another young boy is found dead, Hooke, Harry and Sir Edmund are summoned by the King to examine the body. But before they have time to find the serial killer, another, more high profile, death changes the course of their investigation.
As word spreads of Harry’s investigation into the mysterious deaths, he finds his life in grave danger, not knowing any longer who to trust when he finally realises the horrible significance of one man’s research and the terrible consequences of experiments gone wrong in the name of Science.
Bloody marvellous, is what I think. The Bloodless Boy takes real characters from the seventeenth century – such as Robert Hooke, Henry (“Harry”) Hunt, Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, Earl of Shaftesbury, John Locke, Titus Oates, Tom Gyles, Grace Hooke, Henry Oldenburg, Jonas Moore, Hortense Mancini – adds some fictional characters, puts them in a real setting of post-Great-Fire and post-plague London and has them involved in a fictional murder mystery set amongst real events. Confused? There is no need to be. My knowledge of the seventeenth century is pretty limited, but this novel tells you, in a very accessible and fluid way, what you need to know to follow the story.
I enjoy reading fact and I enjoy reading fiction, but I am not normally drawn to novels that meld the two, and generally consciously avoid those that do. I get too hung up on what is real and what is made up. This novel, though, is informative and enthralling, and I was easily able to tell which events were the real ones and which were made up (OK, I consulted Wikipedia a couple of times – but that was fun too, and you don’t need to leave the story to go off and do the research – it’s just my “condition” that makes me). Now I am making it sound like a text book: it is not – it’s a story set in a time that is brilliantly researched and if you want to pick up facts along the way you can, and if you want to enjoy just a murder tale, you can do that too. My main fascination was with the Royal Society and Gresham College and the “natural philosophers”, and I was inspired to go and find out more. The descriptions of London were captivating, too, although I would have liked them to be slightly more vivid to get a real feeling of atmosphere as well as architecture.
I loved the way Charles II was depicted. And the character of Harry is really well portrayed. He is not a brave man, but his natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge spur him on and lead him to places to which he would not normally venture.
The author says this is a “Marmite book” – and the very mixed reviews show this to be true. But the overwhelming majority are good, and I am quite firmly in the “love it” camp.
So there you have it (I’ve linked to a much more scholarly review in the “Reviews” section): I think it’s great, I’m really glad I read it, and I look forward to more books from Robert J. Lloyd.
Editorial Input & Design
Very professional pre-press input. Any suggestions I would be tempted to make would be of the give-it-to-ten-editors-and-get-ten-different-edits sort, so, unusually, I’ll keep quiet. I would find a companion website useful for more in-depth articles on the various historical aspects, and a map of London at the time.
Cover: They seem to be different for the paperback and the ebook. I read the ebook. The cover looks quite good as a thumbnail, but is not very professional-looking at full size. The paperback cover is attractive, but the typography lets it down. I also have no idea what the apparatus shown is.
Internal design: No problems with the Kindle version. From the “Look inside” feature of the paperback version, the line-end hyphenation needs some attention (there are far too many word breaks) and the spaced en-dashes look as though they are set at hyphen length.
Book Clubs & Reviews
Definitely one for book clubs. There would be lots to discuss from the various themes of the book, and I think that as it is a “Marmite book” there would be some lively discourse on its merits.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it 4.6 stars (40 reviewers); Amazon US readers give it 4 stars (8 reviewers); Goodreads readers give it 3.46 stars (13 ratings).
Buy & Author
Book Depository (€13.28, free delivery)
Amazon (Kindle £0.99/$1.47; paperback £8.99/$10.64)
Follow the author:
(Robert, I’m meddling again: you’d benefit from a website.)
Links of interest:
The Levellers and the Civil War A podcast from Londoners Out Loud