Susanna Gregory

Historical crime fiction. Medieval murder mysteries.
    Restoration intrigue and treachery.

The Piccadilly Plot

The Piccadilly PlotThomas Chaloner’s Seventh Exploit in Restoration London

Murder, greed and treachery in the corridors of power…

Thomas Chaloner is relieved to be summoned back to London from Tangier, where his master, the Earl of Clarendon, has sent him to investigate a case of corruption. He had not enjoyed his travels, not least because he had only been married a few days before being ordered away. Thus he is happy to be reunited with Hannah, although the trivial reason for his recall exasperates him – the theft of building materials from the construction site of Clarendon’s sumptuous home just north of Piccadilly.

But within hours of his return, Chaloner is thrust into other investigations, ones involving threats of assassination, a stolen corpse and a scheme to frame the Queen for treason. And there are connections between them all that thread through the unfinished Clarendon House.

These connections make Chaloner realise that the violence, intrigue and corruption he has witnessed on the north African coast has its roots in the heart of the capital’s establishment: courtiers vying for a share of the vast wealth to be had from trading overseas. Determined to belong to the most profitable  syndicate, they will stop at nothing to deter those who dare to undermine their ambitions… EditionWaterstoneseBook
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Tangier, 4 May 1664

William Reyner watched Lord Teviot lead the five hundred soldiers to their deaths. It would be easy to prevent the massacre – just gallop after the column and tell Teviot that more than ten thousand Barbary corsairs were lying in wait ahead – but he made no move to do so. A large amount of money was at stake, and that was considered far more important than the lives of mere warriors. Besides, Reyner had never liked Teviot: the man was a greedy fool, who should never have been appointed Governor of Tangier in the first place.

He glanced around him. Tangier had come to England as part of Queen Katherine’s dowry, but it was a paltry place – a few winding streets huddled on a hill, rich with the scent of exotic spices, sun-baked manure and the salty aroma of the sea. It was being fortified, in the hope that it would provide British ships with a secure Mediterranean anchorage, although personally, Reyner thought the King should have held out for something better. Tangier’s harbour was too shallow and too exposed, while the surrounding countryside was full of hostile Moors.

When the last infantryman had marched through the town gate, Reyner and his fellow scouts followed on horseback. Colonel Harley was in the lead, sullen and scowling as usual, while the impassive Robert Newell brought up the rear. All three were careful to keep their distance: they did not want to become entangled in the slaughter that was about to take place.

Teviot’s destination was a wood named Jews Hill, a place where corsairs often gathered to harry the town. The three scouts had assured him that it was safe that day, a good time to chop down some of the trees, and make it more difficult for raiders to use in the future. The reality was that it had never been more dangerous.

It was not long before the first sounds of battle drifted back on the hot, dusty breeze – the yells of men roaring an attack and the spluttering crack of gunfire. Reyner, Harley and Newell reined in.

Reyner did not care about Teviot, but he had always been uncomfortable with sacrificing half the town’s garrison into the bargain. Harley and Newell had scoffed at his faintheartedness, reminding him of the fabulous rewards they would reap when the deed was done, but he could not escape the conviction that the plan was unnecessarily brutal, and that a less bloody way should have been devised to realise their master’s plans.

The first skirmish did not last long, and the British cheered when the Moors turned and ran. Reyner stared hard at Harley: there was still time to stop what had been set in motion, to warn Teviot that the first attack was a ruse to lure him and his men deeper into the woods. But Harley ignored him. Oblivious to the peril, Teviot rallied his troops and led an advance up the hill.

The British were jubilant at the enemy’s ‘flight’, and it was clear they felt invincible. They walked a little taller in the wavering heat, the fierce African sunlight glinting off their helmets and weapons. Teviot was at their head, a tall, athletic figure on his white horse. He looked like a god, although Reyner knew he was anything but: the Governor of Tangier was a vain, stupid man, whose incompetence was matched only by his venality.

The corsair commander timed his ambush perfectly, splintering Teviot’s column into clusters. There was immediate panic: the British had been trained to fight in a specific formation, and did not know what to do once their orderly line had been broken. Teviot did his best, bawling orders and laying about him like a demon. Grudgingly, Reyner admitted that, for all his faults, the man was no coward.

The battle was short and brutal. Pikes and short swords were no match for ten thousand scything scimitars, and the British were cut down in ruthless hand-to-hand skirmishing. Teviot managed to rally a few men at the top of the hill, where he mounted a brave last stand, but it was hopeless. The Moors advanced in an almost leisurely fashion, and Teviot was hacked to pieces.

Without a word, Reyner, Harley and Newell rode back to Tangier, ready to feign shock when news of the catastrophe reached the town. They did not have long to wait. Miraculously, about thirty soldiers had managed to escape. They stumbled through the gate, shaken and bloody, gasping their tale to the settlement’s horrified residents.

Reyner closed his ears to the wails of shock and disbelief, telling himself that the massacre was Teviot’s own fault for choosing the wrong side in the struggle for riches and power – his master had had no choice but to order his elimination. But he was uneasy, even so. The order to kill Teviot had been delivered with a ruthless insouciance, and Reyner had sensed a dark and deadly power.

Not for the first time since he had been recruited, he wondered whether he had been right to throw in his lot with such a person. He had been promised a handsome payment, it was true, but what good was a fortune if he was not alive to enjoy it – if it was decided that those who had engineered the atrocity were too great a liability, and should be dispatched themselves?

But what was done was done, and there was no going back. He, Harley and Newell would just have to ensure that no one ever learned the truth about what had transpired on Jews Hill that pretty spring morning. And if that entailed more murders, then so be it.