Robert J. Lloyd’s first novel begins on New Year’s Day 1678. The setting is London, a city still recovering from the Conflagration or Great Fire eleven years previous with the appearance of numerous true historical figures as well as many fictitious ones. Charles II, occupies the English throne and rumors abound concerning Catholic plots to assassinate him. The title of the novel, THE BLOODLESS BOY is very apropos as the drama that hovers over the story surrounds the discovery of the body of a three year old boy near the Fleet River with wounds providing evidence that the boy had all of his blood drained from his body. What makes matters worse is that as the plot evolves other bodies are found in a similar state.
The two most important protagonists are Robert Hooke and Henry Hunt. Hooke is the Curator of Experiments of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, Gresham’s Professor of Geometry, and Surveyor of London. Hunt, a former protégé of Hooke’s, now on his own is an Observator of the Royal Society of London and both men have been tasked by Charles II and Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, the Justice of the Peace for Westminster to assist in solving the murders. Hooke is very reluctant fearing it will interfere in what he believes to be his greater work for the Society, and Hunt is more than willing to cooperate as he sees it as an avenue to emerge from under his former mentor’s shadow.
(Charles II, King of England)
Political intrigue and spies abound in the novel with the constant references to Popish plots against the government, assassination plans to remove Charles II, and a series of Ciphers that come into the possession of Hooke, Hunt, and others. As the plot meanders slowly for a number of chapters Hooke is very concerned that the murders may lead back to the earlier English Civil War and Charles II escape to France. Further, Lloyd expertly integrates the story of the Earl of Shaftsbury, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Chancellor, and First Lord of Trade who upon writing a pamphlet arguing that the powers of the king should be restricted spends a year in the Tower of London until he expresses contrition for his beliefs. Despite this expression his life centers around seeking revenge. Another story that Lloyd weaves into the novel is that of Henry Oldenburg, Secretary of the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge who commits suicide which Hooke and Hunt promise his widow to keep his cause of death a secret. The question is clear, what do the murders, political machinations, and suicide have to do with one another?
Lloyd possesses an excellent command of British history as is evidenced by his commentary centering on plots against the government, use of the views expressed by the historical figures he incorporates into his plot, and knowledge of natural philosophy and London and its environs. Lloyd uses Hooke and Hunt who make up an odd couple to solve the murders and their interactions provide a useful guide into scientific, philosophical, and political knowledge of the day. Lloyd’s descriptions of London as it existed after the devastating fire of 1666 which destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 Parish churches, The Royal Exchange, Guildhall, and St. Paul’s Cathedral are important as he reviews the architectural changes of the city focusing on older buildings that survived the fire, those that did not, and the newest structures that have been built or are under construction.
Lloyd’s use of late 17th century language and his attention to the smallest detail add authenticity to the dialogue and atmosphere reflected in the story. Based on the author’s commitment to detail the reader can smell the leather tanneries, the smell of the food served in the taverns, and the snow and rain that was a staple for 17th century London. Lloyd captures the ambiance of the Scientific Revolution and coming Enlightenment with references to the works of Sir Isaac Newton, William Harvey, and the writings of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, among others.
The construction of the plot passes through many layers as Lloyd builds the tension surrounding the many conspiracies, murders, political machinations, religion, and ciphers at the same time the distrust the characters have for each drips in each interaction. The blend of fact and fiction make for an excellent historical mystery, and I hope to read Lloyd’s sequel which he is working on as soon as it is published. Let me add one caveat, after reading THE BLOODLESS BOY you are sure to develop a different view of the Scientific Revolution.