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The King's Evil


The King's Evil

Andrew Taylor has long been one of the finest authors of historical thrillers, and THE KING'S EVIL --- the third installment in his James Marwood & Cat Lovett series --- is no exception. The year is 1667, and the action takes place primarily in the Court of Charles II and the territory under his rule. James Marwood works under the King, and is a trusted and loyal subject.

The book’s title is an interesting one, as it could be viewed both literally and symbolically. The King's Evil is the nickname for scrofula, an infection of the lymph nodes that oftentimes leads to bulbous growths around the face and neck area. Several individuals get this disease throughout the story.

It is ironic that Marwood has a different affliction. His is more man-made as half of his face was badly burned during the London fires of the prior novel, THE FIRE COURT. Marwood is now an unforgettable character due to his appearance, and I believe that this is part of the reason why the King uses him for an important mission.

"I just love Andrew Taylor's work because he allows us to easily slip back into time without overburdening us with dull history.... [Marwood's] mission becomes our own as the novel twists and turns to a surprising finale."

At the start of the book, we witness a drowning; both the victim and his killer are anonymous. It is later announced that the body of Edward Alderley has been found at the bottom of a well. Interestingly, the well is on the property of Lord Clarendon, and it is obvious that he had been killed elsewhere and dumped there.

Edward’s father was a true villain whose crimes were mostly known to just the King. Edward himself was no angel. Marwood's friend, Cat Lovett, is Edward's cousin, and she confesses to Marwood that Edward raped her. She also reveals that she wanted to kill him. Unfortunately for Cat, her feelings about him are no big secret. So now that he actually has turned up dead, her name is on a very short list of suspects.

William Chiffinch, Keeper of the King's Private Closet, first approaches Marwood about a mission under orders of the King. Marwood is to very quietly investigate Edward’s murder, but there’s a problem. Even though Cat is betrothed to another, he still has feelings for her and considers her a close friend. Beyond that, he feels somewhat responsible because he made her aware that Edward was in town. Knowing what she thought of him might make Marwood an accessory to the crime if indeed Cat is guilty.

Not only must Marwood conduct a lowkey investigation, he needs to prove that Cat is innocent of the crime. Cat does not make it easy as she has disappeared, and he later finds her hiding out under an assumed identity. Meanwhile, Chiffinch hands over a letter addressed to the King's Court that names Cat as the killer. Marwood's initial inquiries fail to uncover any more clues --- just a herd of new characters who know nothing and seemingly have no reason for wanting Edward killed.

At one point, the King gets Marwood alone and asks him to openly share everything he has uncovered to date. The King brings up Cat in the conversation and is aware of Marwood's relationship with her. He then asks that Marwood go on an entirely different quest, this one with Lady Quincy, who he is to accompany to Cambridge. It is evident to Marwood that the King is after specific information and that there is much more behind the murder.

As others go missing and additional bodies turn up, the need for a quick resolution to this matter is extremely necessary. Marwood's trip with Lady Quincy is eye-opening in many ways, and he soon sees that what started as a single murder could be just the tip of the iceberg in a scandal that threatens the King and his entire government.

I just love Andrew Taylor's work because he allows us to easily slip back into time without overburdening us with dull history. The characters are all living, breathing people, and James Marwood is a protagonist who represents us, the common man or average reader. His mission becomes our own as the novel twists and turns to a surprising finale.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 8, 2020

The King's Evil
by Andrew Taylor