Liam Rudden: Medieval thriller has me hooked

The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger. Picture: contributed
The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger. Picture: contributed
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BACKSTABBING. Double crossing. Political duplicity. Not talking about GE 2015, as Twitter appears to have hash-tagged the build-up to the general election.

No, this story also has unnatural practices and murder most foul. More foul than you can image actually, 16 victims deposited in a “long dropper” within the walls of London’s city.

To explain, in 1386 the long dropper – a malodorous public toilet – was basically a shaft above a flowing river from where people, well, “powdered their nose”. Foul indeed.

So begins Bruce Holsinger’s beautifully crafted novel The Invention of Fire, which finds John Gower, a medieval secret agent, challenged with solving the mass murder, which, it turns out has been committed with a strange new weapon, the “handgonne”. And what an evocative read it is, brilliantly bringing to life a long-gone London that remains hauntingly familiar.

Nothing beats stumbling across an author who sparks the imagination for the first time – I’ve never been one of those people who has to finish a book just because I’ve started it.

I still recall being caught up in the bizarre world of Robert Rankin after just a few lines of The Brentford Trilogy. Or of losing myself in Ngaio Marsh’s crumbling theatre at the heart of Death At The Dolphin. Similarly, Hanif Kureishi’s Buddha of Suburbia introduced me to a culture I may never have otherwise experienced.

So it was with Holsinger, who paints an image of medieval London so vivid you can almost smell it. History seeps from every utterance as Gower sets about an investigation that will take him from the Tower of London to Calais and back. Well-paced, multilayered and with finely drawn characters, quite simply, medieval thrillers don’t come better than this. I may have a new favourite author.

The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger, published by Harper Collins, £12.99