When Cromwell dies and the Commonwealth collapses, Parliamentarian spy Thomas Chaloner finds himself unemployed. Fortunately, the Lord Chancellor hires him to investigate the rumour that gold has been buried inside the Tower of London. But he is quickly seduced by other, more deadly, secrets, and discovers that his predecessor in Clarendon’s employ was murdered…
Who is Thomas Chaloner?
The character of Thomas Chaloner is fictional, but his family was real.
An earlier Thomas Chaloner (1521–1565) was an Elizabethan statesman who found time to write poems in Latin and English. His son, another Thomas Chaloner (1559–1616) enjoyed the patronage of the powerful Cecil family, and later became a favourite of King James I. He married twice, and produced at least eight children by his first marriage, and seven by his second. He was a noted naturalist, and developed profitable alum mines in Yorkshire. His most famous sons are Thomas (1595–1661) and James (1602–1660), who signed King Charles’s I’s death warrant, becoming what were known as regicides.
Thomas and James were uncles to the fictional Thomas Chaloner of the mysteries, and the naturalist alum-mine owner was his grandfather. The alum mines feature in the books, as it has been proposed that Charles I’s decision to take them for himself was the reason why the family turned against the monarchy.
Our Thomas Chaloner enjoyed a happy childhood at the family home in Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire, but was whisked off by his uncle to fight for Cromwell’s New Model Army during the civil wars. Afterwards, he finished his studies in Cambridge, and enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn. He quickly came to the attention of Cromwell’s Spymaster General John Thurloe, who snagged him for the Commonwealth intelligence services.
All went well for Chaloner over the next ten years. He was posted mostly to The United Provinces of the Netherlands, but also to France and Spain. The fall of the Commonwealth was catastrophic for him, though, as it would have been for many Parliamentarians. When the monarchy was restored, he was dismissed in favour of men who had kept faith – or claimed they had – with the exiled Charles II, and Chaloner felt himself extremely fortunate when Thurloe inveigled him a post in the Earl of Clarendon’s household.
Chaloner does not like the Earl, nor does he like the duties he is asked to perform, but beggars cannot be choosers, and he is obliged to make the best of the situation.
These are the Thomas Chaloner mysteries, listed in order of publication. Click on the title for more details.
A Conspiracy of Violence
Blood on the Strand
On a cold spring evening, the merchant Matthew Webb is brutally murdered while walking home from dining with other rich and powerful men. Chaloner is ordered to investigate, but soon dislikes the direction in which his questions are taking him – towards the King and his Court at White Hall. With his old friend Aphra Behn, he must unravel the mystery before they become victims themselves.
The Butcher of Smithfield
There is a war between London’s newsmen, with the handwritten ‘newsletters’ of one faction vying for power with the government’s official ‘newsbooks’. Lies, deception and skulduggery abound, but when their antics lead to death, Thomas Chaloner is summoned. He soon uncovers a web of treachery and deceit, designed to win control of the minds of Londoners.
The Westminster Poisoner
Chaloner is ordered to investigate the murder of Christopher Vine, a diligent Treasury official. The Lord Chancellor believes the culprit to be another clerk, but Chaloner has reservations. His search for the real murderer plunges him into a stinking seam of corruption, where the pickings are so rich that men are prepared to go to any lengths to protect their profits.
A Murder on London Bridge
The infamous church-smasher Dick Culmer is killed on London Bridge, and Chaloner’s investigations link him to a group of Puritan conspirators. Meanwhile, in the Palace of White Hall, Chaloner realises that a pack of fanatical rebels is planning an explosive climax to achieve its goals. Desperately racing against time, he is determined to thwart the insurgents – as determined as they are to prevent him from revealing their true intentions…
The Body in the Thames
The summer of 1664, and a group of delegates from Holland has arrived in London in a desperate attempt to avert an outbreak of hostilities with Britain. However, it is not long before one is murdered, and Chaloner must find the killer before the warmongers on both sides use the incident to plunge their countries into a bloody and brutal conflict.
The Piccadilly Plot
Chaloner is pleased to see London after an assignment in Tangier, but within moments of his arrival, he witnesses a murder. His enquiries lead him into some very dark places, including stolen corpses, the assassination of high officials, and a plot to frame the Queen for treason.
Death in St James’s Park
When a cart laden with gunpowder explodes outside the General Letter Office, it is immediately clear that such an act is more than an expression of outrage at the inefficiency of the postal service. Chaloner wants to investigate, but is forbidden by his employer for reasons that make no sense to him. Meanwhile, he is diverted to explore the poisoning of some birds in St James’s Park, but it soon becomes clear that the two cases are inextricably linked.
Murder on High Holborn
When Chaloner is called to the ‘gentleman’s club’ run by his friend Temperance, he finds a member of Court dead, wearing nothing but his boots and a hat. It is but the start of an investigation that calls for him to infiltrate a group of fanatics known as the Fifth Monarchists. Soon he discovers that the blowing up of a navy ship could be only a part of a plot that could undermine the entire monarchy.
The Cheapside Corpse
The suicide of wealthy vintner Nicholas Colburn and the murder of goldsmith-banker Dick Wheler cause ripples of unease among London’s financial elite. Alarmed, the Earl of Clarendon sends Chaloner to investigate, leading the spy to discover a web of deceit made only more dangerous by the deadly plague inexplicably spreading through all parts of London.
The Chelsea Strangler
Chaloner is sent to the rural village of Chelsea to investigate a theft from an asylum to which the Earl of Clarendon has given support. But rather than just a thief, he finds the village is threatened by a murderer, whose victims begin to mount. But is the killer from the local theological college, which is currently housing Dutch prisoners of war, or does he have a connection with the very asylum the spy is trying to help?
The Executioner of St Paul’s
The Earl of Clarendon sends Chaloner back to a London where the plague is killing thousands each week to investigate a body discovered in a crypt – not newly deceased, but dead some twenty years. In the process, Chaloner is drawn into a struggle over the future of the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, a conflict with numerous victims, the next of whom might be Chaloner himself.
Intrigue in Covent Garden
Can the British victory over the Dutch at the Battle of Lowestoft, the murder of a high-placed physician, and the deaths in port of twenty sailors be somehow related? Chaloner thinks so, but do they have to do with Dutch spies in London, attempts to destroy the royal palaces, or the King’s own spy-master turning on him? Chaloner is running out of time to find out.
The Clerkenwell Affair
Despite the Royal Physician ruling the death of a courtier to be of natural causes, the Earl of Clarendon orders Chaloner to investigate it as murder. His search leads to the wildly hedonistic courtiers forming the Cockpit Club, a soothsayer predicting approaching disasters, and the groundbreaking poet and philosopher, the Duchess of Newcastle. But his investigation is hampered by having to chaperone his two young cousins, and by being forced to work once again with Spymaster Williamson’s deadly assassin, John Swaddell.