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WHAT IS ONE MORE CORPSE, WHEN ALL AROUND YOU ARE DYING... London, 1665. Hidden within a growing pile of corpses, one victim of the pestilence stands out: a young woman with a shorn head and pieces of twine delicately tied around each ankle. Symon Patrick, rector of St. Paul's Covent Garden, cannot say exactly why this corpse amongst the many in his churchyard should give him WHAT IS ONE MORE CORPSE, WHEN ALL AROUND YOU ARE DYING... London, 1665. Hidden within a growing pile of corpses, one victim of the pestilence stands out: a young woman with a shorn head and pieces of twine delicately tied around each ankle. Symon Patrick, rector of St. Paul's Covent Garden, cannot say exactly why this corpse amongst the many in his churchyard should give him pause. Longing to do good, he joins a group of medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague, each man more peculiar and splenetic than the next. But there is another - unknown to The Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague - who is performing his own terrible experiments upon unwilling plague-ridden subjects. It is Penelope - Symon's unwanted yet unremovable addition to his household - who may yet shed light on the matter. Far more than what she appears, she is already on the hunt. But the dark presence that enters the houses of the sick will not stop, and has no mercy... This hugely atmospheric and entertaining historical thriller will transport readers to the palaces and alleyways of seventeenth-century London. Perfect for fans of Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Andrew Taylor and C.J. Sansom.


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WHAT IS ONE MORE CORPSE, WHEN ALL AROUND YOU ARE DYING... London, 1665. Hidden within a growing pile of corpses, one victim of the pestilence stands out: a young woman with a shorn head and pieces of twine delicately tied around each ankle. Symon Patrick, rector of St. Paul's Covent Garden, cannot say exactly why this corpse amongst the many in his churchyard should give him WHAT IS ONE MORE CORPSE, WHEN ALL AROUND YOU ARE DYING... London, 1665. Hidden within a growing pile of corpses, one victim of the pestilence stands out: a young woman with a shorn head and pieces of twine delicately tied around each ankle. Symon Patrick, rector of St. Paul's Covent Garden, cannot say exactly why this corpse amongst the many in his churchyard should give him pause. Longing to do good, he joins a group of medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague, each man more peculiar and splenetic than the next. But there is another - unknown to The Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague - who is performing his own terrible experiments upon unwilling plague-ridden subjects. It is Penelope - Symon's unwanted yet unremovable addition to his household - who may yet shed light on the matter. Far more than what she appears, she is already on the hunt. But the dark presence that enters the houses of the sick will not stop, and has no mercy... This hugely atmospheric and entertaining historical thriller will transport readers to the palaces and alleyways of seventeenth-century London. Perfect for fans of Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Andrew Taylor and C.J. Sansom.

30 review for The Plague Letters

  1. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    London 1665, and the bubonic plague, which started slowly in the spring of that year, began to spread much more quickly during the hot summer months. Eventually, the city was closed by order of the King - no one allowed in, and no one allowed out. As we ourselves are now familiar with the Covid pandemic, we understand how dreadful, how frightening it is, but what takes ‘The Plague Letters’ to another level is, there is also a serial killer within the city walls, walking freely among these unfort London 1665, and the bubonic plague, which started slowly in the spring of that year, began to spread much more quickly during the hot summer months. Eventually, the city was closed by order of the King - no one allowed in, and no one allowed out. As we ourselves are now familiar with the Covid pandemic, we understand how dreadful, how frightening it is, but what takes ‘The Plague Letters’ to another level is, there is also a serial killer within the city walls, walking freely among these unfortunate people - all of them trapped. As victims of the plague are brought to Reverend Symon Patrick’s churchyard for mass burial, he discovers that one of the corpses has strange markings on her body, along with burns and bruising and pieces of twine tied around her ankles. Evidence suggests that this young woman, besides suffering from the plague, was also a victim of torture and murder - and there are more victims to follow! A young woman named Penelope turns up at Symon‘s home - a strange, dirty and untidy girl, (think urchin and you won’t be far wrong) who otherwise appears to be extremely intelligent, can even speak German, she’s certainly something of an enigma, ultimately though, with her expert help, Symon will unveil the killer amongst them. Very well researched, some glorious (though not always likeable) characters, and plenty of tension, peppered throughout with a dark sense of humour. This is a well written whodunnit, with a real sense of time and place, and great atmosphere. * Thank you to Netgalley and Serpent’s Tail/ Profile Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest unbiased review *

  2. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Walsh

    This is a dark, disturbing book that transports the reader to 1665, London during the bubonic plague. It is a place of fear, filth, pestilence, and death and a time and location where no one wants to find themselves. The cast of characters is mostly obnoxious, but their interactions and dialogue insert wit and black humour into their gruesome surroundings. The story covers four months, from June through September. During this period, infectious dead bodies were everywhere, and the wealthy had fl This is a dark, disturbing book that transports the reader to 1665, London during the bubonic plague. It is a place of fear, filth, pestilence, and death and a time and location where no one wants to find themselves. The cast of characters is mostly obnoxious, but their interactions and dialogue insert wit and black humour into their gruesome surroundings. The story covers four months, from June through September. During this period, infectious dead bodies were everywhere, and the wealthy had fled London for the sanctuary and fresh air of the countryside. There is a helpful list of characters and frequent maps showing the increasing areas of the city infected and the rising number of deaths each week from the pandemic. ( Much like we follow almost daily on TV bulletins.) There is an official order that no one is to leave or enter the city, similar to what I am facing today under new COVID restrictions. Also, all pets in London must be killed, a rule that many are reluctant to follow. To add to the terror, a serial killer appears to be walking freely within the city walls. It was the duty of the hapless and inattentive clergyman, Symon Patrick, to say prayers over the dead of his parish and see that the bodies are transported to the local cemetery to be buried in mass graves. Symon is distracted by his obsession with a married woman, Elizabeth, who lives some distance away. Too much of his time is focused on writing and revising letters to her. The object of his affection is a devious and deceptive lady who is always on his mind. His former maid, Mary, has gone missing. Symon blames himself, as do others, for not keeping her safe. A filthy body turns up outside his church. Covered in dirt and excrement, she appears to be a homeless street urchin close to death. Once brought inside, she makes an astonishing recovery. The mysterious girl, Penelope, is really a small young woman. She soon establishes herself within Symon's household. She is independent and not afraid to contradict and criticize Symon and tell him what he should be doing. She is intelligent, educated, fearless, and an expert in disguise. Symon is shocked to see Mary's body among those of the plague victims. Even more disturbing is the state of her disease-ravished body that shows signs of torture. Her blond tresses have been shorn; cords are tied around her wrists and ankles. Ink grids surround her infections, and painful burns have been inflicted on her body. More appalling, bits of animal parts, chemical substances, and a fingernail has been sewn into her wounds. It looks like the sick girl was a victim of some superstitious, pagan ritual. Soon, more bodies with similar markings, mostly blond young women, begin to show up. A serial killer appears to be performing macabre, gruesome experiments on those infected by the plague. Symon tries to warn authorities about a probable serial killer but is too distracted to be taken seriously, and his pleas are ignored. Could the murderer be a member of the Plague Society? One of them may be looking for a cure and experimenting on those sickened by the plague. Its members include two doctors with a longtime hatred, an apothecary, and a mystic faith healer. For admission to the society, they demand a dead body to dissect, but none is forthcoming. Symon observes that nothing is accomplished at their meetings. There is a constant rivalry to end the plague with the honours, wealth and fame that finding a cure would ensure. The meetings are full of insults, arguments, criticism and disorder. In the meantime, the fearless, marvellous, and determined Penelope is on the trail of the killer. She breaks into homes for clues. She interviews suspects while in disguise and strongly believes the guilty party is a member of the Plague Society. She is a great character, but I wish ghosts had not been added to her story, even peaceful and benevolent ones. There is plenty of dread and horror without a supernatural element. I hope there is a future book featuring her presence. The author, V.L. Valentine, is a senior science editor for National Public Radio in Washington, DC. Her Master's degree was in the history of medicine. She has covered infectious diseases such as COVID and Ebola. Her research into the bubonic plague has well prepared her for this compelling, atmospheric novel. Some of the characters are loosely based on actual people from this period of history. Recommended to readers of historical fiction and who enjoy medical mysteries and gloriously described characters.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    VL Valentine's historical mystery is one that resonates uncomfortably with our Covid-19 contemporary realities, set in the 17th century Restoration period of 1665, a time of the Great Plague in London. Most of the well off have fled the filth, stink and terrors of the city and the deadly sickness, a pestilence that kills the poor, whilst sparing the rich. Samuel Pepys documents the rising tide of the dead, numerous maps show the inexorable spread of the plague in London, in this atmospheric, dar VL Valentine's historical mystery is one that resonates uncomfortably with our Covid-19 contemporary realities, set in the 17th century Restoration period of 1665, a time of the Great Plague in London. Most of the well off have fled the filth, stink and terrors of the city and the deadly sickness, a pestilence that kills the poor, whilst sparing the rich. Samuel Pepys documents the rising tide of the dead, numerous maps show the inexorable spread of the plague in London, in this atmospheric, darkly humorous novel, that so often descends into pure farce. Symon Patrick is a put-upon Rector, kind and sympathetic, although a susceptible, flawed man, obsessed, and infatuated with the wily married Lady Elizabeth Gauden. Homeless, impoverished and in poor health, Penelope brings herself to Symon's church, he had helped before, and with verve and determination, makes herself at home in his household. Symon's young maid has gone missing, frantic efforts to find her fail, until her plague ridden and tortured dead body turns up, her golden blonde hair shorn, a drawn grid on her, hideous burns, other oddities and twine bracelets on her wrists and ankles. This is to be first of many bodies discarded and discovered with a similar MO, a serial killer roams, engaging in macabre and strange experiments on those infected by the plague. In a febrile atmosphere teeming with conspiracy theories and old superstitions, the bright, feisty and independent Penelope is on the case, going where others fear to tread, often invisible, in a world where being a woman and her poverty status guarantee that barely anyone notices or listens to her. Symon too is on the trail, he is a worried man, although distracted, becoming all too aware that few are willing to take his warnings seriously. Could the killer be one of the Plague Society looking for a cure for the plague, a motley crew, consisting of the blindly ambitious, morally bankrupt and cold hearted? VL Valentine immerses us in this fascinating historical period and its central mystery, with a riotously colourful range of characters, including the wonderful and mysterious Penelope, just who is she and how come she can speak German? She stands hands and shoulders above the men, even the well meaning Symon, regarded as a pushover by those who know him, it takes him a while to really begin to see the real Penelope and appreciate her true value and worth. As for the other male members of The Plague Society, what a poor and unlikeable bunch! This is a fabulously entertaining and comic historical read, one that carries so many echoes of our present era, and which I think will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Serpent's Tail/Profile Books for an ARC.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Whispering Stories

    Book Reviewed on www.whisperingstories.com Who better to write about a plague ravishing the world than someone with a master’s in the history of medicine and works as a science editor covering infectious disease outbreaks. These stats should tell you how well researched and true to life this book is. The year is 1665 and the Bubonic Plague is starting to gain traction and spread throughout London. As the bodies mount up it is up to Rector Symon Patrick to bless them before their bodies are buried. Book Reviewed on www.whisperingstories.com Who better to write about a plague ravishing the world than someone with a master’s in the history of medicine and works as a science editor covering infectious disease outbreaks. These stats should tell you how well researched and true to life this book is. The year is 1665 and the Bubonic Plague is starting to gain traction and spread throughout London. As the bodies mount up it is up to Rector Symon Patrick to bless them before their bodies are buried. When his recently missing maid turns up with the plague bodies the Rector notices that she has had her arms and legs bound and that the plague wasn’t the cause of her death. As more bodies with similar markings show up the Rector realises that a murderer is walking amongst them who is trying to pass his victims off as plague victims. With the help of a young but well-educated girl Penelope who is found on the streets, can the pair work out who the killer is whilst staying free from the plague? I wasn’t sure when I first saw this book whether reading about a plague whilst we are in the middle of a global pandemic caused by a deadly virus would be a good idea, but there was something about someone murdering people and trying to pass their bodies off as plague victims that had me intrigued and so I jumped in. I’m so happy I did. The Plague Letters is utterly engrossing. The beginning started slowly but when the maid’s body is discovered my intrigue picked up as now we were on the hunt for a killer and I love a good historical thriller/mystery. The writing is quite descriptive and at times this made the plot feel a little wordy, but without these descriptive scenes would you feel as immersed in the time period? I’m not so sure. The characters are not the nicest of people, whether it was the era, the plague, living in fear, perhaps all of these made the characters quite rude and come across as obnoxious I’m not sure but I can’t say there was really a nice character amongst them. Yes, they had their nice moments, but it wouldn’t be long before they were back to being surly. They also had a dark, dry sense of humour, again most likely to do with what they were living through. This is a novel that had me gripped to the pages. I read it within just a couple of days as I didn’t want to put it down. The plot felt plausible, the characters realistic, and as a whole very atmospheric.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Ryles

    Set in 1665 during the Great Plague of London, I am amazed by how much The Plague Letters shows shocking similarities to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. Written well before Covid-19 was even a twinkle in a bat's eye, it's well worth reading just to prove that we will never learn, not even from history. As doctors race to develop a cure, a murderer is roaming the streets of London experimenting on the sick and dying. Rector Symon and his sidekick Penelope become somewhat amateur sleuths as they fol Set in 1665 during the Great Plague of London, I am amazed by how much The Plague Letters shows shocking similarities to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. Written well before Covid-19 was even a twinkle in a bat's eye, it's well worth reading just to prove that we will never learn, not even from history. As doctors race to develop a cure, a murderer is roaming the streets of London experimenting on the sick and dying. Rector Symon and his sidekick Penelope become somewhat amateur sleuths as they follow the corpses to lead them to the killer. It's mainly Penelope really as Symon is completely smitten with a married woman and he would much rather sit at home reading her letters and dreaming of an impossible future. Whilst I was intrigued by the murders, it was the spread of plague that completely mesmerised me and that brings me on to an element of the book that I thought was a fantastic addition but only if you read The Plague Letters as a physical book (unfortunately, I read an ebook). I will always choose a physical book over a kindle copy mainly because I love the feel of a book in my hands, but there are also a lot of features that just don't work in kindle. In this case, a map of London is interspersed between the chapters showing the spread of plague moving across London in red. This would have been a very dramatic graphic if kindle could only show colours. Other than the enigma that is Penelope, and Symon's cute little cat that said 'mweep', I didn't really connect with any of the characters. Symon is wetter than a wet weekend in Skegness and I just wanted to give him a shake to make him stop obsessing over Elizabeth. The other medical men seemed to all merge into one and I couldn't really separate them in my mind, although there is a very useful cast of characters at the start of the book but it's not so easy to flick back and forth on a kindle as you could so easily do with a physical book. I call Penelope an enigma as I'm not really sure what her role is in Symon's household; she seems to annoy Symon a lot of the time but he doesn't even consider getting rid of her. The air of mystery surrounding her certainly adds to the intrigue of her character. The Plague Letters may be historical fiction but it's like reading about the present day. Shocking in its similarities to 2020, it's a very well written novel with a murderous twist. Thank you to Viper Books for approving my NetGalley request to read an ebook; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dan Bassett

    London, 1665. Hidden within a pile of corpses, one victim of this pestilence stands out: a young woman with a shorn head, bound wrists and ankles, along with strange markings over her body... Rector Symon Patrick cannot say why this corpse should upset him so, but longing to do good he joins a group of medical men who are determined to find a cure. But there is another who is conducting his own unspeakable experiments upon the dying... You follow Symon, a Rector of high morals, but questionable acq London, 1665. Hidden within a pile of corpses, one victim of this pestilence stands out: a young woman with a shorn head, bound wrists and ankles, along with strange markings over her body... Rector Symon Patrick cannot say why this corpse should upset him so, but longing to do good he joins a group of medical men who are determined to find a cure. But there is another who is conducting his own unspeakable experiments upon the dying... You follow Symon, a Rector of high morals, but questionable acquaintances as he delves deep in to a world full of disease, conflict, betrayal, and dark motives. Symon stumbles upon Penelope - a mysterious girl who finds herself in Symons house where she may be able to cast some light onto what exactly is happening. After all, she shouldn’t be alive after what she has gone through... As the story progresses, you see just how abhorrent these experimental practices become, as a mysterious figure starts to leave more and more corpses strewn in with those who were simply taken by the plague, but his victims have been through so much more torment as he takes pleasure in trying to ‘cure’ them of their affliction while he performs diabolical acts upon these people who thought he was there to simply help them... But will Symon and Penelope ever catch this person who thinks they are doing good, or will they stay elusive forever while Symon has to just watch the dead pile up high upon his doorstep? They must learn to work together to stop what is happening, but as the plague spreads faster than they can anticipate, a sense of dread builds as they could find themselves locked in such a close space with the killer himself. Laced with a gorgeously dark sense of humour, eerily beautiful settings, and one liners that will make you cackle like you have the plague yourself, this is one whodunnit that will creep under your skin and leave its mark upon you...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    What to say about this book. My over-arching impression is that it was strange... very strange. I found the mystery compelling, in principle. I was kept reading because I was keen to find out 'whodunit', but the characters of the story were, to a man (which generic includes the women), a disparate group of misanthropes, none of which garnered one iota of sympathy from me. A more thoroughly unlikable cast of characters I have yet to encounter in a book, and I had little time for any one of them, What to say about this book. My over-arching impression is that it was strange... very strange. I found the mystery compelling, in principle. I was kept reading because I was keen to find out 'whodunit', but the characters of the story were, to a man (which generic includes the women), a disparate group of misanthropes, none of which garnered one iota of sympathy from me. A more thoroughly unlikable cast of characters I have yet to encounter in a book, and I had little time for any one of them, except perhaps Nell and Jack, who were peripheral characters, at best. There was so little introduction or back-story to the characters that it was difficult to raise them from the page. The main protagonist is supposed to be a priest, but is actually little more than a libidinous lecher. He has very little moral fibre, but he does square his shoulders and assert himself once or twice throughout the story. This occurrence is rare, however, and he allows himself to be put upon by just about every other character in the book.. An equally prominent protagonist is Penelope, a young girl who insinuates herself into the Rector's household and proceeds to pretty much take over the place, as well as the Rector's life. In this modern world of female empowerment, many would say that Penelope is an admirable character. However, for empowered read ill-mannered, unprincipled, overbearing, imperious and selfish. At one point she says 'If someone dislikes me, it's because they know I speak the truth'. Hmmm, not at all because you are a rude, unruly, self-centred, interfering busybody, of course. The other characters were no better, and there was so little back-story to any of them or any real character depth or development, that it was difficult to connect with any of them. Indeed, they barely connected with each other! They all had such idiosyncratic personas that one got the impression of reading the libretto of a comic opera or the script of a pantomime rather than a serious novel. They all behaved in so outlandish and theatrical a manner that at first I was convinced that the book was supposed to be a farce. However, I believe that the author intends a work of serious fiction. I read on and on, yet I felt that I was only ever skating over the surface of the story, never really being drawn into its depths. The plot was simple, yet it was executed in so confusing a manner due to the outlandish actions and dialog of the protagonists, that it was a harder read than it really should have been. It was supposed to be a mystery but the detectives were perforce culled from the very misanthropic characters that formed the cast, so my hopes were not high. I can't say that I guessed the perpetrator, but since no real clues were given, that is no surprise, and in the end it was pretty much a case of the last man standing is the culprit. As strange as the story is however, there is a modicum of predictability when, to heighten the suspense towards the end, some of the young female characters meet a hackneyed fate, and the deus ex machina moment when one of these young women somehow impossibly extricates herself from her captivity is glossed over in the most peremptory manner that one is left thinking 'what-now??'. The story is well written and the plague-ridden atmosphere of 17th Century London is brought to life admirably. There are some strange word-choices made considering the period setting, which leads me to suspect an Transatlantic author - 'squished', 'ball-player', 'pocket-doors'. None of these are even English terms, let alone 17th Century English. The chapter heading maps and statistics that chart the spread of the disease through the city are a nice touch and they preface the progressively growing sense of impending doom that runs through the book. As aforementioned, the mystery is actually quite compelling, and the strangeness of the story's delivery is by no means a negative, nor yet the unlikable characters. The factor that lets the book down is the lack of character depth and reader-engagement. However compelling a plot, the tale will fall flat on its face if there is nothing of substance to hang it on.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tabitha Matthew

    The Plague Letters is a dark mystery set in Restoration London when bubonic plague is killing people in their thousands. I read the novel at the same time as watching a documentary on channel. 5 about the subject. The novel.is well researched, features true characters and has parallels with the times we are living in. I am a fan of Andrew Taylor's historical thrillers and this will appeal to his readers. The Plague Letters is a dark mystery set in Restoration London when bubonic plague is killing people in their thousands. I read the novel at the same time as watching a documentary on channel. 5 about the subject. The novel.is well researched, features true characters and has parallels with the times we are living in. I am a fan of Andrew Taylor's historical thrillers and this will appeal to his readers.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Evie

    I feel absolutely honoured to get an advanced copy of this, and I devoured it happily. This has to be one of the best historical fiction pieces to grace our shelves since Hilary Mantel. It gives a fascinating insight into the dark medical world of plague-stricken London, and I simply could not put it down. The characters are brilliant, and there are several laugh-out-loud moments where I questioned my own humour :) Valentine has a unique skill of inserting very dark humour into a world where the I feel absolutely honoured to get an advanced copy of this, and I devoured it happily. This has to be one of the best historical fiction pieces to grace our shelves since Hilary Mantel. It gives a fascinating insight into the dark medical world of plague-stricken London, and I simply could not put it down. The characters are brilliant, and there are several laugh-out-loud moments where I questioned my own humour :) Valentine has a unique skill of inserting very dark humour into a world where there shouldn't be much humour at all. I really enjoyed every page, and I would happily read it all over again.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Hicks

    My thanks to V.L. Valentine, Serpent's Tail / Profile Books and NetGalley for the ARC of THE PLAGUE LETTERS. I really enjoyed this novel.. A new take on the time of the plague, a whodunnit, a new heroine to follow, Penelope, who appeared from out of the ashes and became the main protagonist. Symon Patrick is a man of the cloth, inexperienced in ways of the world, a little naive perhaps. He made mistakes, made bad decisions and let things go when he should have followed them through, but somehow My thanks to V.L. Valentine, Serpent's Tail / Profile Books and NetGalley for the ARC of THE PLAGUE LETTERS. I really enjoyed this novel.. A new take on the time of the plague, a whodunnit, a new heroine to follow, Penelope, who appeared from out of the ashes and became the main protagonist. Symon Patrick is a man of the cloth, inexperienced in ways of the world, a little naive perhaps. He made mistakes, made bad decisions and let things go when he should have followed them through, but somehow this is the perfect juxtaposition to Penelope's educated miss sunk to dirty urchin persona. Between them they discover who is kidnapping young women and using them for experiments into a cure for the plague. I hope V L Valentine follows this story up with others. I would certainly read them.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    This was one of those novels I really didn't want to end, though I wanted to know what was going to happen! Despite the grim subject matter of the plague and mutilated bodies, the humour was fantastic. I found myself laughing out loud at the escapades of Symon and Penelope (especially Penelope - what an amazing character) and at the crudeness of Greatrakes and Mincy. A murder mystery with an excellent plot and even better characters, just what I needed after this strange year living through a dif This was one of those novels I really didn't want to end, though I wanted to know what was going to happen! Despite the grim subject matter of the plague and mutilated bodies, the humour was fantastic. I found myself laughing out loud at the escapades of Symon and Penelope (especially Penelope - what an amazing character) and at the crudeness of Greatrakes and Mincy. A murder mystery with an excellent plot and even better characters, just what I needed after this strange year living through a different sort of plague! Five stars from me!

  12. 5 out of 5

    GeorgeMonck

    A teriible virus spreads through London claiming many lives back in 1665. As there are so many deaths burial space is at a premium bodies are soon thrown into communal graves. Amongst the horror of the plague it appears that someone has been experimneting on some of the bodies in a rather unpleasant fashion. As the story progresses the number of potential suspects makes this a interesting read. There a few twists and turns amd even an appearance by George Monck the Duke of Albermarle himslef! The A teriible virus spreads through London claiming many lives back in 1665. As there are so many deaths burial space is at a premium bodies are soon thrown into communal graves. Amongst the horror of the plague it appears that someone has been experimneting on some of the bodies in a rather unpleasant fashion. As the story progresses the number of potential suspects makes this a interesting read. There a few twists and turns amd even an appearance by George Monck the Duke of Albermarle himslef! The main characters are Symon Patrick, a rector, and Penelope, a quirky free spirited maid/servant in Simon's household. The Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague may not be all that they seem. Reading this through covid tintied glasses made me uncomfrotable numerous times (including the rich fleeing London to the countryside). Worth a try for someone looking for something a little different.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Louise Gray

    A fascinating book which is very informative about London in the time of the plague. As well as an interesting historical reflection, the book is a great thriller/mystery. More detail than you often see in a murder mystery, the deaths are grisly and the pace fast. There was less focus on building the characters and relationships than I usually like, but the fast pace may have made that difficult.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Leanne Cramond

    I love well-written and researched historical fiction stories that you can learn about history in a much more engaging way than dry academic textbooks, and especially crime or mysteries. This book falls into all my favourite categories. Living in the COVID world as we are at the moment, this book has many parallels of the restrictions and growing death toll we are facing every day and a reminder that plagues and pandemics are a major feature of human history. This story is very atmospheric and v I love well-written and researched historical fiction stories that you can learn about history in a much more engaging way than dry academic textbooks, and especially crime or mysteries. This book falls into all my favourite categories. Living in the COVID world as we are at the moment, this book has many parallels of the restrictions and growing death toll we are facing every day and a reminder that plagues and pandemics are a major feature of human history. This story is very atmospheric and visual with a lot of graphic detail The filthy conditions of London in the 1600's and the stark contrast between the treatment of rich and poor, and master and servant are very well portrayed along with the deaths and 'experiments'. Symon, the rector of a London Church, is not a particularly strong or perhaps even likable character sometimes who not totally willingly joins a very disparate group of 'medical' men trying to find a cure for the plague as he has access to dead bodies they can use for experiments. Add in a dark and mysterious figure who is doing some atrocious things to sufferers of the plague then murdering them and the very interesting female character of Penelope, who can 'hear' the dead and you have an engaging crime thriller, with a little touch of Gothic, that will have you turning the pages quickly.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jenni

    It’s 1665 and The great Plague has arrived in London, along with a murderer whose intent isn’t at all innocent. Hidden within a growing pile of corpses, one victim of the pestilence stands out: a young woman with a shorn head and pieces of twine delicately tied around each ankle. Symon Patrick, rector of St. Paul's Covent Garden, cannot say exactly why this corpse amongst the many in his churchyard should give him pause. Longing to do good, he joins a group of medical men who have gathered to find It’s 1665 and The great Plague has arrived in London, along with a murderer whose intent isn’t at all innocent. Hidden within a growing pile of corpses, one victim of the pestilence stands out: a young woman with a shorn head and pieces of twine delicately tied around each ankle. Symon Patrick, rector of St. Paul's Covent Garden, cannot say exactly why this corpse amongst the many in his churchyard should give him pause. Longing to do good, he joins a group of medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague, each man more peculiar and splenetic than the next. V.L. Valentines debut novel is a cleverly worded book. I have been researching The Plague for a number of years and new research always shows up. I absolutely loved how the author incorporated real events and used real people in this story. It is beautifully written and the descriptions were wonderful. However, the pacing of the book was a little slow and I did get bored around the halfway mark. But then it picks up. I also found it a little hard keeping up with the characters and who was who. But that is soon rectified as you progress into the story. Overall, a pleasant read which I enjoyed. And if you love crime and who done it books, then this is for you. I would recommend this book. I give this book a rating of 4/5 ⭐️‘s

  16. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    We all need a Penelope in our lives I think!!! Someone,is out there,using the cover of the plague,to murder victims in strange medical experiments. Its clever,but unfortunately its also noticed. Our main character Symon is a bit of a wet blanket,that at times needed a good shake. The rest of the unlikely plague group,were at times farcical.... they made me smile anyway. Enjoyable ride through the infested streets of london,with memorable characters.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Meggy Chocolate'n'Waffles

    Warning: there is no known cure for what you will experience with The Plague Letters. However, do not fear, for once the first symptoms appear, you will not want the illness to leave you. Sweet is the book hangover offered to us by V. L. Valentine. Bittersweet is the taste in my mouth as I lay the book to rest. Is it greedy of me to wish for more? The author’s choice of ingredients for her Plague spell was rather interesting. London. My favorite city. A mortal disease. I have a certain (probably unh Warning: there is no known cure for what you will experience with The Plague Letters. However, do not fear, for once the first symptoms appear, you will not want the illness to leave you. Sweet is the book hangover offered to us by V. L. Valentine. Bittersweet is the taste in my mouth as I lay the book to rest. Is it greedy of me to wish for more? The author’s choice of ingredients for her Plague spell was rather interesting. London. My favorite city. A mortal disease. I have a certain (probably unhealthy) fascination for such ordeals. 1666… No, this one was the joker. Usually, historical fiction intimidates me. Will I have the knowledge to understand and appreciate the story? Will the author find the invisible string to connect me to characters who breathed and danced during an era so far from mine? I took the bet. Disguised murders. Here, my curiosity was sparked and the goosebumps on my arms give away my excitement. Holy Joly Molly! Better than the Tardis, The Plague Letters drops you in the wilderness of London and its stingy alleys, phantom-like streets, in the middle of a plague pandemic! Boom! As a layperson when it comes to historical fiction, it was a hit or miss. I decided to trust the publisher and push my way through a sick crowd. Did I get ill? Yes. A delicious illness readers can never get enough of. Quickly stricken by the thirst to know more, understand everything, and see with my own eyes, I happily dived into the 17th century Thames. If I feared for a minute that the plague would have me reflect on our present situation, I soon stopped thinking about the here and now. I was fully immersed in the past thanks to an astonishingly perfect prose that reeled me in and kept me firmly standing with Symon, Penelope, and the others. This in itself is a true miracle. Was I thinking about what I knew of old time London? No, I didn’t have to because V. L. Valentine made it easy to create the walls, the gardens, and hear the sounds so everything became familiar very fast. First time ever! No jetlag time during which I have to focus to imagine the surroundings. Rector Symon Patrick is busy. His heart is full, and so is his parish’s churchyard. The plague is decimating the capital and there is little time for laziness. Weirdly, Symon was one of the last characters I warmed up to. I enjoyed following him around, getting the hang of his job and finding my feet in this century through his eyes. I found his household to be quite unusual, with servants talking back to him! How cheeky! In truth, most characters are colorful and very, very interesting. Is it because they are so far from my usual protagonists? No, I believe it’s due to the knack of the author for creating wonderfully captivating creatures of God! So, who did I root for? Who had me on their side almost right from the beginning? Meet Penelope. Mysterious character you can’t put in a box. A clever mind, dirty clothes, a past you get snippets of. Original is what I would call her. Yes, I was, and I am #TeamPenelope for without her, this novel inhabited by many men who would not find their hand in the dark, would never have gotten to the bottom of the case… What case? I hear you ask. The plague is the work of God/Mother Nature/Insert your theory here. Isn’t such terrible threat enough? No, not for everyone… Soon, corpses appear, not only plagued by the disease’s scars but also by a man’s hands… Scary, isn’t it? I don’t what’s scarier, someone playing with ill people or a bunch of physicians of sorts trying to find a cure for the plague? The mix of those two elements gave the book many layers and gave me a terrible and chilling insight in what was medicine at the time. Thank goodness for our current medical technologies and knowledge!!! There is no room for sentimentality as the houses get abandoned and numbers rise every day. Although I felt the desperation, I was never burdened by as I was too busy cringing at the surgeons, apothecaries, physicians and other imposters’ theories and talks. How dare they talk about unearthing the dead to experiment on them and find a cure… Wait, we do that! I loved how The Plague Letters challenged me to see things through different lenses! When did autopsies become common? Well, not then! As they all fight about whether or not it is a sin to get bodies to examine, someone decides there is no time for such petty discussions and takes matter in their own hands. Penelope is the one who sees it first. Someone is hiding used bodies in the overflowing dead carts of the plague. Like a cat, she smells foul play and embarks Symon in a chase to find the culprit before the illness finds them. I believe I owe my inability to tear myself away from the book to the realism breathed into the pages by the outstanding research and professionalism behind the fiction. V. L. Valentine knows how to blend mystery, blood, and strong characters. There is never a dull moment in this novel! Grisly murders, dry remarks, the sound of shoes running all over the city, The Plague Letter is a cracking (and murderous) piece of historical fiction. Never before had I been under such a spell!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mary Picken

    Reading the Plague Letters, one can’t help but wonder if this is the author’s political satire upon the current pandemic. It isn’t, but there are parallels you can draw if you want to venture down that rabbit hole. The Rev Symon Patrick is a hapless buffoon, engaged in helping to find the cause of the deadly Great Plague that is laying waste to London in 1665, but he has not a clue and he and his doctor and apothecary acquaintances are foundering in the dark, trying all manner of bizarre remedie Reading the Plague Letters, one can’t help but wonder if this is the author’s political satire upon the current pandemic. It isn’t, but there are parallels you can draw if you want to venture down that rabbit hole. The Rev Symon Patrick is a hapless buffoon, engaged in helping to find the cause of the deadly Great Plague that is laying waste to London in 1665, but he has not a clue and he and his doctor and apothecary acquaintances are foundering in the dark, trying all manner of bizarre remedies even as the better off move their families out of London. This plague is enduring and all told will kill a third of Londoners. There is fame and fortune to be had should one be the medical genius who discovers how to bring the Great Plague to an end. As the plague ravages and spreads across London, we learn that it is not just disease that is killing off Londoners. For there is a serial killer in their midst. A killer, hiding in plain sight, in streets where the stench of death prevails above all the other smells of urine, rank decay and unwashed bodies. Vikki Valentine’s book is not just a gruesome walk through pestilence and death; it has a sharp comedic edge to it that will have you laughing even as you shake your head at the ineptitude of our would-be hero. Interspersed with short extracts from Pepy’s diary and with Plague maps showing the spread of the plague at the top of each chapter, Valentine brings the weekly death toll into a horrible perspective. Symon Patrick is the Rector of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden and is most hapless sleuth you will ever come across. This holy man is spending his time writing somewhat plaintive and slightly obfuscated romantic letters to Lady Elizabeth Gauden, a flirtacious married woman whose husband is often in town on business. When the Rev Patrick should be caring for the sick and ensuring decent burials for the dead, his mind is taking him to a country estate where the object of his affections has most recently given birth to a son. Symon’s maid goes missing, and though he fails at first to do enough to find her, despite the beseeching of his staff, he feels bereft when her body turns up, her blonde hair all cut off, her body burnt in places and marked with a grid and her wrists and ankles showing she has been bound. She has died of plague but has clearly been tortured. Into this household Penelope arrives. She is a young woman who is clearly seriously unwell. She is filthy and clothed in rags. They think she is probably dying and take her in. But Penelope has stamina and determination and as she pulls through, she starts to have an impact on Patrick’s household. She realises as a result of her own horrible experiences, what is important in life, and she knows that for Patrick, his calling is not being fulfilled by his mooning around after a woman he can never have. With all the energy of a piece of wet lettuce, he allows Penelope to point out that there is a real and present danger in their midst and that there are more bodies turning up that bear the same marks as Patrick’s maid. It appears that someone is experimenting on live bodies that are plague infected. Penelope has been through a great deal in her young life and she has learnt to live on her wits. This makes her very observant. She also, perhaps as a result of everything she has experienced, sees ghosts. She can’t talk to them, but they are ever present around her and she feels acutely that she has a duty to stop what is happening. In order to do that she has to harness the attention of Syimon Patrick; a task that does not prove easy. Once she has alerted him to what is going on, he begins to see that the killer might well be one of the Plague Society. A doctor, surgeon or apothecary looking for a cure and prepared to anything to find one. He stumbles his way around suspecting his best friend, his colleagues, everyone he meets without applying sense or judgement. It is left to the ever brave and resilient Penelope to lead Symon Patrick, often by the nose, on a journey that will lead him to the answers, though not without disasters and danger at every turn. Vikki Valentine’s book has a great cast of memorable characters, some with wonderful names, and she beautifully evokes a London that is putrefying and carrying the stench of death through its streets. I love the character of Penelope, whose lack of airs and graces contrasts so beautifully with the selfishness and greed of the men she meets, including most of the medical profession. She is a woman of action, when the men just stand around arguing about where to get the bodies from to experiment on in search of a cure. Verdict: There are levels of satire and laugh out loud humour from cracking one liners here that lift this book above the mere historical whodunit. V.L. Valentine has a great sense of place and atmosphere and her plague infested London is dark and putrefying. Funny and fierce, this is a fab read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mick Dubois

    It’s the summer of 1665. The Plague is spreading through London and those who can afford it have fled to the countryside. Symon Patrick is rector of St Paul in Covent Garden and has only recently returned to his parish after spending some much needed in a spa. Now he has to take care of the dead and give them a Christian burial. He’s invited to become a member of a society that wants to find a cure as well as preventing the Plague. They’re a weird bunch of medical professionals that quarrel most It’s the summer of 1665. The Plague is spreading through London and those who can afford it have fled to the countryside. Symon Patrick is rector of St Paul in Covent Garden and has only recently returned to his parish after spending some much needed in a spa. Now he has to take care of the dead and give them a Christian burial. He’s invited to become a member of a society that wants to find a cure as well as preventing the Plague. They’re a weird bunch of medical professionals that quarrel most of the time and achieve nothing. Amongst those dead that are delivered to his church, Symon recognizes Mary a maid of his household that was missing since May. It looks as if she was tortured before she died; there are strange burns and scars all over her legs and ankles and wrists are bound with a length of twine. The same day another girl who’s on death’s door arrives in his churchyard. Instead of bringing her to a pesthouse, he puts her in a cot in the vestry. As by a miracle, Penelope survives and soon claims a place in his own household. It’s she that discovers another victim of the same butcher: shorn hair and a puzzle of wounds encased in inked squares. Who would murder the dying? When they look closer, they discover that in some wounds there are strange objects sewn in; the foot of a frog and a hare, a virgin's fingernail, ... This looks like someone is experimenting on these girls. At regular intervals, this narrative is interceded by the genuine historical notations of the renowned Samuel Pepys on the progression of the Plague. Dr Burnett is also a real historical figure and was a friend of Samuel Pepys. Some of the others are also authentic. At the end of the book, there’s some explanation about the real people that figure in the book. Penelope is an enigma. She can see ghosts and thinks nothing about it. We learn that she a bit of an ‘heiress’ and suffered abuse from her aunt and uncle that were after her inheritance. She’s amazingly well educated and can read Greek and German, as well as a bunch of other languages. She turns out to be a good detective using logic and science to discover what she wants to know. She’s the most likeable character in the book. The main character, Symon is a douchebag. His drooling and pining for Elizabeth annoyed me a bit. The rector is a weak and indecisive man. Even his friends call him that to his face. He suffered some kind of breakdown prior to the events of this book as he returns from a health spa. But with his nice income, he’s considered a good match by his female parishioners and their mothers and he’s handsome as well. To his defence, I must say that he has a just moral compass about duty and has the courage to stay in his parish instead of fleeing the city as most well-off people did. Although Penelope convinced the rector that the culprit was one of the men of the plague society, I wasn’t all that certain. They’re all nasty and unsympathetic men with vices and secrets that make them into suspects, but all of them seemed to be exonerated one way or another. I really had no idea who was guilty until the end. There was more than enough suspense and it was well spaced out over various events and people. With a disease like the plague, you’re not sure all and who of them will survive and during this epidemic, they must find a delusional medic who kills and tortures the dying. The beginning was a slow build-up but once the train was in motion, there was no more stopping it. Despite the gruesome theme, I enjoyed this book. I was surprised to learn that this book is a standalone or possibly the first in a series. I felt as if the author assumed that we had prior knowledge of the affair between Symon and Elizabeth and of the events that brought Nell, Jack and the sexton to the rector. It would make a good first in a series about Penelope, as she is the most engaging character in the series and I would like to find out how she’ll go about getting her birthrights back. Maybe a second book can be written about the great fire that ended the plague? I can’t get around mentioning the similarities between this current Covid pandemic and the plague. Others have already said most of the things that I have in mind. Many of the measures we undergo today aren’t much different from the ones they took back then but luckily, no-one thinks about putting down our cats and down nowadays. I thank Netgalley and Serpent’s Tail for the free ARC they provided; this is my honest and unbiased review of it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amy Louise

    V. L Valentine’s The Plague Letters opens with the Reverend Symon Patrick, newly returned to London by order of his patron and regretting both his enforced return and his separation from the vivacious Elizabeth. Symon returns to a city filled with fear and a household in uproar – during his absence, bubonic plague has arrived and Londoners are fleeing to the country if they can. And in the midst of the chaos, one of Symon’s maids has gone missing. When the missing maid turns up dead, no one – lea V. L Valentine’s The Plague Letters opens with the Reverend Symon Patrick, newly returned to London by order of his patron and regretting both his enforced return and his separation from the vivacious Elizabeth. Symon returns to a city filled with fear and a household in uproar – during his absence, bubonic plague has arrived and Londoners are fleeing to the country if they can. And in the midst of the chaos, one of Symon’s maids has gone missing. When the missing maid turns up dead, no one – least of all Symon – is surprised. The body shows unusual signs – a shaved head, strange inked markings, signs of restraint – but London is full of superstition, quacks, and dubious medicines. But when another young woman arrives in the same condition, Penelope – a new and quick-witted addition to Symons household – forces the reluctant reverend to take notice of the possibility of a killer in their midst. Someone, it seems, is attempting a series of misguided experiments in an attempt to rid London of the plague – and they’re more than happy to trial their ‘medicine’ on human subjects. Desperate for answers, Symon is forced into an unlikely alliance. A group of medical ‘professionals’ – an eminent physician, a well-known surgeon, a charismatic ‘healer’, and a pioneering apothacary – have formed The Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague. Despite their differences – and their personal eccentricities – these men seek to end London’s suffering. But is a killer hiding in their midst? There were times, especially early on, when I wasn’t quite sure what sort of book I was reading with The Plague Letters. By turns gorily vivid in its descriptions of the deprivations bought about by the London plague, the next page might see a farcical comedy play out as the filthy surgeon Mincey starts a fistfight with drunken apothecary Boghurst, or court favourite Valentine Greatrakes flounces into the room with a knowing smile and a witty retort. Turn the page again and you’re in the midde of a romantic drama, as Symon continues his illicit correspondance with the flirtateous – and very much married – Elizabeth. It’s as if V. L. Valentine has reached into 1665 and pulled out a slice of London life, upending it onto the page in all of its chaotic, messy, and gruesome glory. Get used to the sudden lurches in tone however, and The Plague Letters offers a rich and rewarding mystery enveloped alongside deeply evocative depiction of plague-ridden London. The characters, whilst not always especially likeable, leap off the page, pulling the reader into their messy lives – and into their hunt for an increasingly unhinged killer. V. L. Valentine has a real eye – and ear – for the strange and the absurd, brilliantly capturing both the dark humour and the grit of the bodily experiences evoked on the page. Symon makes for an interesting – and occasionally infuriating – main narrator. Suffering from melancholy and increasingly embroiled in relationships he neither fully understands nor fully appreciates, he is a man whose inner demons constantly wrestle with his better angels. Once paired with clever, mysterious Penelope however, Symon soon begins to untangle his knotty mess of life choices and I enjoyed seeing the pair’s relationship develop from antagonistic tolerance to trust over the course of the novel. Although the ending leaves many of the personal mysteries within the characters lives opaque or unresolved, I still felt as if I had got to know – and even to like – these flawed and changeable people by the of the book. The eccentricity of style – that alignment of the grim and the grimly funny – may put some people off The Plague Letters but settle into this novel and you’ll find a cleverly-plotted mystery, some fantastially realised characters, and a deeply evocative depiction of seventeenth-century London. It’s as if Imogen Hermes Gowar’s sublimely eccentric The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock had been combined with the tension of Andrew Taylor’s Ashes of London and the mystery of Antonia Hodgson’s A Devil in the Marshalsea. Fans of historical crime will find much to delight in – as will anyone who enjoys being dragged in to a book and taken along for a wild and unpredictable ride! NB: This review first appeared on my blog at https://theshelfofunreadbooks.wordpre... as part of the blog tour for the book. My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing a copy of the book in return for and honest and unbiased review.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    The Plague Letters is a debut historical mystery from V.L. Valentine set in 1665 as the Bubonic Plague sweeps through London. I came perilously close to DNF-ing The Plague Letters at about the 10% mark, though I can’t really articulate why, however since I make a point of reading at least 100 pages before giving up on a book, I persevered. It’s wasn’t a decision I regretted exactly but in the end I thought the story as a whole was lacking. The premise of the mystery is strong. Among the victims bo The Plague Letters is a debut historical mystery from V.L. Valentine set in 1665 as the Bubonic Plague sweeps through London. I came perilously close to DNF-ing The Plague Letters at about the 10% mark, though I can’t really articulate why, however since I make a point of reading at least 100 pages before giving up on a book, I persevered. It’s wasn’t a decision I regretted exactly but in the end I thought the story as a whole was lacking. The premise of the mystery is strong. Among the victims bought to Reverend Symon Patrick’s churchyard for mass burial as the Plague spreads through his parish, is a young girl whose body is marked by more than the weeping buboes characteristic of the Black Death. Fresh bruises, cuts, inked lines, and strange circular burns mar her skin, while twine is wound tightly around her wrists and ankles. The Reverend notes the horror, but it’s not until more similarly violated body’s are discovered, that something is considered seriously amiss. Suspicion falls on the members of the Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague with which the Reverend is associated - physician Dr Alexander Burnett, surgeon Lodowick Mincy, apothecary William Boghurst, and Valentine Greatrakes, a mystic healer. Any of the men seems capable of the crime, every one a buffoon, occasionally a source for horrifying hilarity, they are uniformly arrogant, ambitious, and essentially amoral, all of whom display the casual indifference to human life common to medical men of the 17th century, (except where it may reflect on their status within society). This, however, is where the issue lies with the plot for me, though there are at least five suspects proved capable of committing these crimes, I believe there is an absence of specific clues that suggests a single guilty party. It’s certainly possible I overlooked something, but I experienced no feeling of vindication or surprise when the guilty party was revealed, one or the other of which I personally find necessary for a mystery novel. Sadly few of the characters did little to engage me either. Symon seems to have very little agency in the novel. He is a weak man, who spends most of his time trying to be invisible, largely ignoring the plague and his parishioners, distracted by daydreams about the attentions of a married woman. Having little inner strength or courage, Symon is easily led, which is just as well for Penelope, who has rather more than you’d expect from a 17th century, young, orphaned, homeless girl. Penelope is really the catalyst and driving force for the development of the plot. Though she’s rather an improbable character for the times, her remarkable intelligence, determination, and bravery ensures that the dead girls aren’t ignored. She wedges herself into Symon’s life, refusing to allow him to shirk his responsibility, and relentlessly pushes for someone to be held account. With her brazen attitude and surprise gifts, I found Penelope to be the strongest and most appealing character. Where I think the author excels in The Plague Letters is in their vivid descriptions of London under siege from the plague. The imagery is at times disturbing, though accurate, of victims tormented by the deadly progression of the disease, and the desperate acts of the medical men to stop it, of bodies piled in ‘dead carts’ chased by hungry dogs down the street, of pits dug in churchyards, tended to by young boys, filling with layers of the dead sprinkled with caustic lime as the overburdened ground begins to rise. Between each chapter a map shows the spread of the disease through the city and the mounting death toll. All of this also invites comparisons to the current pandemic, which may be uncomfortable for some. In the end, I’m not sure the strengths and weaknesses of The Plague Letters quite balance each other out, as historical fiction I might recommend it, as a mystery I’d not, so overall sadly, somewhat disappointing.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elainedav

    I wanted to love this book. It is the sort of historical fiction that I enjoy - something based on fact, with factual elements mixed into the fiction in such a way that you're not sure where the fact ends and fiction begins. But to be honest, I was a bit disappointed. I think it would be much better as a physical book rather than the e-book version which I read. There are illustrations between each chapter showing the spread of the plague as it moved across London. A great idea, but it just does I wanted to love this book. It is the sort of historical fiction that I enjoy - something based on fact, with factual elements mixed into the fiction in such a way that you're not sure where the fact ends and fiction begins. But to be honest, I was a bit disappointed. I think it would be much better as a physical book rather than the e-book version which I read. There are illustrations between each chapter showing the spread of the plague as it moved across London. A great idea, but it just doesn't work in an e-book - the map was split across two pages and the colour doesn't show. The storyline is simple enough. It is 1665 and the plague is spreading across London. Many people have left the city to protect themselves. Others are locked in their own houses due to infection, many people are dying and the plague pits are filling with dead bodies. A group of men form a society to attempt to find a cure. One of them realises that someone is experimenting on the sick and is killing rather than curing them. He suspects the others in the society. So, there is an element of crime fiction in the novel too - crime fiction in a historical setting. There are strong parallels to the current pandemic. Reading the death count and the numbers affected is so similar to our current daily news, it was a bit uncomfortable to be honest! Not the author's fault - I imagine this book was researched and written well before we found ourselves in the current situation. I liked the character of Penelope. I felt she added something more to the group of men in the society and I'm sure the way she was dismissed and overlooked was very true to the time period. But she was full of spirit and fearless in a way. A much more engaging lead character than the lead male. The language used by the author also felt fitting to the period, although I am not an expert. Now I have finished the book, I find myself reflecting on it's title. Why did the author call it the plague letters. Is this is reference to the letters between Symon and the married woman who has left the city, that he exchanges letters with? Or is it to do with the Samuel Pepys announcements which appear several times? I have no idea! Symon's letters were part of a side story which I felt was distracting to the central plot - surely they wouldn't be deemed important enough to be reflected in the title of the book. I just don't get it! I felt overall that the crime aspect of the novel was a bit slow. When the killer is eventually revealed, it's a bit of an anticlimax. It all felt a bit superficial, lacking in depth. The historical aspects are much better and I have no doubt that everything was very well researched. I liked the author note at the end where she explains that many of the names used are real - I wondered whether any of the Samuel Pepys information was real, but didn't see anything about this. Would I recommend this novel to other people? Yes, but make sure it is a physical book not an e-book, I suspect that would have made it a 4 star rather than a 3 star read for me. Thank you to NetGalley for an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Mcghie

    London is a city in lockdown, it is 1665 and the advice is to restrict movement and stay home. A deadly disease is spreading through the city and there are countless deaths which the medial profession are unable to cure but are frantically trying to find ways to ease suffering. A Plague Society has gained a few notable members but the extent of their success is not apparent and Rector Symon even questions (to himself) what methods they are using to conduct their research. I mention Symon as he is London is a city in lockdown, it is 1665 and the advice is to restrict movement and stay home. A deadly disease is spreading through the city and there are countless deaths which the medial profession are unable to cure but are frantically trying to find ways to ease suffering. A Plague Society has gained a few notable members but the extent of their success is not apparent and Rector Symon even questions (to himself) what methods they are using to conduct their research. I mention Symon as he is one of the key players in our tale. A man of faith and someone that is coming into frequent contact with the dead as the bodies are brought for blessing and burial. In the midst of the bodies arriving at his church there is one girl who has died with her hair cropped off, burns on her body and her hands and ankles bound with twine. Symon is a man with distractions. He is being pestered to release some of the corpses which have come to him for burial to the self-proclaimed scientists. He is also obsessed with a married woman – the Lady Elizabeth. Her name crops into his sermons and the two have a steady correspondence by letter Symon travels to visit Elizabeth at her home but finds others also in her company and their relationship seems rather cool in person. Trying to focus Symon’s attention to the very real problem of missing girls in London is a strange soul – Penelope. She appears something of an urchin, unkempt, displaced in the city and often subject of sharp comments regarding her appearance. Yet she manages to make a place for herself in Symon’s household and is doing what she can to make him forget his obsession with Elizabeth and concentrate on the increasing number of bodies which arrive at the church with hair missing and twine binding the hands and ankles. Penelope is trying to make Symon see that a killer is active in the city but will she have any success in getting him to listen to her warnings? Through the book the story is punctuated by a wonderful use of city maps which show the spread and devastation of the plague. This was slighly impacted on my digital copy as the Kindle didn’t reflect the red colouring which grows from map to map showing the increased coverage of the disease. In a hardback, physical, copy I have no doubt these maps will look glorious. I seldom advocate a perference of physical/digial or audiobook but in this case I make a rare exception and only for aesthetic reasons. The Plague Letters is a cracking period thriller. If historical crime is your thing then you absolutely must seek this one out. As someone who only dabbles with historic stories it took me a little longer than I would have liked to adjust to the narrative style and the (excellent) depiction of 1660’s London life. Once I was into the rhythm of the language my initial hesitance faded away and I grew into the story as the world built up around me. I clearly need to read outwith my comfort zone more than I do at present – The Plague Letters was extremely good fun to read with pleasing surprises and more than a few villianous players to raise my suspicions.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Emma Shaw

    Hear ye! Hear ye! The society for the prevention and cure of the plague is now in session. And they’re hunting for a killer. Could he be closer than they think? London, 1655. The Bubonic Plague is spreading and the number of corpses piled in the churchyard grows each day. But the virus isn’t the only killer stalking the city. There is another threat hidden in their midst. One that lingers in the shadows hunting its prey just waiting for the perfect time to strike. Someone is murdering the dying; Hear ye! Hear ye! The society for the prevention and cure of the plague is now in session. And they’re hunting for a killer. Could he be closer than they think? London, 1655. The Bubonic Plague is spreading and the number of corpses piled in the churchyard grows each day. But the virus isn’t the only killer stalking the city. There is another threat hidden in their midst. One that lingers in the shadows hunting its prey just waiting for the perfect time to strike. Someone is murdering the dying; kidnapping those suffering from the plague and subjecting them to horrific experiments. Rector Symon Patrick is the one to first notice the strange marks on some of the dead in his parish. Together with Penelope, a mysterious young woman who recently joined his household, and a group of medical professionals calling themselves the plague society, he sets out to find the merciless killer. A gripping whodunit with a sinister and supernatural twist, this is an outstanding debut. Valentine transports you back to a time of death and peril, taking you on a journey through the filthy, pestilence-ridden streets of London. Her vast knowledge and research on this subject and time period is clearly shown in the societal, cultural and medical details she has woven into the story. The imagery is so vivid that you can almost smell the rot and decay in the air as the virus ravishes the population. It starts at a steady pace, slowly building up the mystery and tension. There is a creeping malice woven through the pages as the barbaric killer commits gruesome acts of torture on already suffereing victims. We know he is a cunning predator, so disturbed that he believes himself to be doing good, but everything else is a guessing game where we are almost as clueless as Symon and Penelope. Everyone is a suspect, and I had no one suspect in my mind even as we approached the big reveal. Most of the novel’s fascinating and memorable characters are based on real historical figures, adding to its air of authenticity. The protagonist, Symon, is a hapless sleuth who bumbles his way through the investigation. He isn’t even focused on his job as rector, instead more concerned with his complicated romance with a married woman. It is Penelope, the mysterious woman who has made herself a place in his household. Feisty, resilient and courageous, she was my favourite character. I loved how she was the total opposite of Symon and the driving force in the investigation, propelling things forward when he and the other members of the plague society would have just allowed things to happen. Atmospheric, haunting, compelling and darkly humorous, I lost myself in this book, relishing every word as I indulged my deep fascination with this time period and my love of historical and gothic mysteries. A delight for anyone who enjoys the genre, don’t miss this eerie tale.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Munch

    I was sent an arc of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a honest review. 2.5 I was so disappointed that I didn't enjoy this more. It's set during a plague outbreak and I've always been fascinated by it, the morbid person that I am. A murder mystery with a supernatural twist during this time should have been an instant hit with me but unfortunately this really didn't hit the mark. The main problem I had were the characters, the members of the plague society most of all. The first couple of time I was sent an arc of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a honest review. 2.5 I was so disappointed that I didn't enjoy this more. It's set during a plague outbreak and I've always been fascinated by it, the morbid person that I am. A murder mystery with a supernatural twist during this time should have been an instant hit with me but unfortunately this really didn't hit the mark. The main problem I had were the characters, the members of the plague society most of all. The first couple of times I found them funny however as the book goes along I found them more and more annoying. Nearly every scene with them (especially together) was a chore to get through and nearly always pointless until about 60% in. Symon and Penelope were better but even then Symon annoyed me from time to time, also what was the point of all the time taken up by his "love affair" with Elizabeth? It had no real connection to the plot, it added nothing particularly interesting. Penelope was definitely the best character, she was determined and didn't care about what the others thought of her, she just wanted justice for the dead women and girls. Her backstory also made you feel for her. No real detective work actually happens in this story until maybe 55-60% in, it mostly consists of Penelope snooping (and apparently all the people she is spying on knows she is spying on them?) and telling Symon information, he does pretty much nothing other than going along with what she tells him to do. I did enjoy the last 35-40% since that's when everything starts happening and the characters get a bit more focused. I enjoyed the supernatural elements but again nothing much happens with that until near the end, I would have liked it more if the spirits had a bigger part to play and were a bit more useful. I will say that the historical accuracy is great and the atmosphere of a plague ravaged London was captured really well, you feel everyone's desperation and growing despair. I also enjoyed the small povs we get of the murderer, very creepy. Overall I feel like it could have had the story trimmed here and there to make it more gripping to read and the side characters seem less silly.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Bridgeman

    There is such a disonance between the plot of 'The Plague Letters' and the current pandemic situation, particularly in the way that panic gathers hold and people begin to flee central London for ostensibly safer environs. Modern days require modern methods and the internet engines buzz and whirr with conspiracy theories, half baked ideas and fear mongering whereas in the past, letters, diaries, and physical manifestations of thought mean that even this many centuries later, we have a bird's eye There is such a disonance between the plot of 'The Plague Letters' and the current pandemic situation, particularly in the way that panic gathers hold and people begin to flee central London for ostensibly safer environs. Modern days require modern methods and the internet engines buzz and whirr with conspiracy theories, half baked ideas and fear mongering whereas in the past, letters, diaries, and physical manifestations of thought mean that even this many centuries later, we have a bird's eye view of the oncoming plague. It makes this reader wonder if in centuries to come, the outpouring of our internal monologues on the web, will survive and what residents of the future cities, whatever form they take, will be left puzzling over such gems as 'This lockdown is doing my head in good and proper' 'What's up? Inbox me hun...' Such facetious wandering down future rabbit holes aside, this is a gloriously rendered novel of historical fiction which is centered in London as the plague takes hold. Funny in the darkest way possible-I am thinking of the way that a certain person keeps trying to get hold of dead bodies to track the way that the disease takes hold, and in the meantime, makes do with dogs!-this is almost an epistolary novel interspersing narrative with letters, snippets of published works(e.g Samuel Pepys) and maps illustrating the boroughs of London as they fall. Religion and science alike battle over whether the iniquities of class, sex and money means certain people will be saved from the ravages of this illness, whilst extolling the virtues of their particular vice-either holy salvation or a medicinal cure. For those who are not fond of historical fiction, and feel it may be impenetrable and hard to relate to, fear not! There is no need for a degree in history to enjoy this novel, it is not only impeccably researched, it brings this time period to life with beautiful descriptors that lie uneasily next to the ravages of corpses, with their plague bubo, scars and assorted marks. It is clearly a labour of love with so much to offer, I very much enjoyed it and hope that you will as well.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jaffareadstoo

    There is something inherently evil lurking in the streets of London in 1665 which is hiding in plain sight of the plague victims who are unceremoniously thrown into stinking lime pits. Mutilated corpses who bear signs of the deadly disease, along with other mysterious desecrations, are brought to the attention of Symon Patrick, the rector of St.Paul’s Covent Garden, whose conscience is stricken at the sight of these poor unfortunate souls. With the plague spreading at an alarming rate there is li There is something inherently evil lurking in the streets of London in 1665 which is hiding in plain sight of the plague victims who are unceremoniously thrown into stinking lime pits. Mutilated corpses who bear signs of the deadly disease, along with other mysterious desecrations, are brought to the attention of Symon Patrick, the rector of St.Paul’s Covent Garden, whose conscience is stricken at the sight of these poor unfortunate souls. With the plague spreading at an alarming rate there is little anyone can do to halt its progress but the author shares a fascinating insight into some of the attempted cures which stop nothing short of eye of newt and toe of frog. Joining together with a group of medical men who seek to find a cure for the pestilence, Symon is inadvertently drawn into the deadly race to find a solution. The Plague Letters is a decidedly complex crime mystery which brings this time of deadly virus to brisk awareness. There much to take in, both in terms of understanding the terror of this deadly disease which is sweeping through London with unrelenting mercy, and the need for some sort of resolution on behalf of those unfortunate souls who find themselves victims of a depraved killer. The complicated plot, at the centre of the story, namely finding the serial killer, is helped enormously by the addition of Penelope, a strong female protagonist, who arrives from nowhere, and who, very quickly, becomes part of Symon’s unusual household, and is a great help in the quest for the killer. There were times when I found the plot a little over complicated and there’s an abundance of characters who are, in the main, quite an odd bunch, some more likeable than others, and one or two who you really wouldn’t want to meet in a plague ridden alley way. Having said that, the story is well researched and gives an atmospheric and rather gritty look at this plague-ridden time in our history.

  28. 5 out of 5

    travelsalongmybookshelf

    🌟B O O K R E V I E W🌟 The Plague Letters - V.L. Valentine ‘𝘼𝙡𝙡 𝙙𝙚𝙖𝙩𝙝𝙨 𝙬𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚 𝙩𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙖𝙨 𝙥𝙡𝙖𝙜𝙪𝙚 𝙣𝙤𝙬.’ The plague has struck London, hordes are fighting to leave, but Reverend Symon Patrick has been called to return by his patron to administer to his flock. He hides in the sweltering heat not wanting to leave his rooms and writes letters to the woman he left behind. His brothers maid is discovered missing, she is delivered dead on the wagon and recognised by Symon, but she has little thin lines cr 🌟B O O K R E V I E W🌟 The Plague Letters - V.L. Valentine ‘𝘼𝙡𝙡 𝙙𝙚𝙖𝙩𝙝𝙨 𝙬𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚 𝙩𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙖𝙨 𝙥𝙡𝙖𝙜𝙪𝙚 𝙣𝙤𝙬.’ The plague has struck London, hordes are fighting to leave, but Reverend Symon Patrick has been called to return by his patron to administer to his flock. He hides in the sweltering heat not wanting to leave his rooms and writes letters to the woman he left behind. His brothers maid is discovered missing, she is delivered dead on the wagon and recognised by Symon, but she has little thin lines crisscrossing her face made by human hand. Penelope, a mysterious girl has survived the plague, thanks to being looked after by Symon and she spots another body with the same wounds and grid markings on it. The bodies start to mount up - Someone is experimenting on young women to try to find a plague cure and abducting them from the streets. Simon and Penelope have to try to find the killer before more murders are committed. This took me quite a while to get into, but it is a slow burner gradually building suspense. It has clearly been meticulously researched and the end notes give further information and insight into the people mentioned in the story. I was drawn to to the mysterious Penelope, she is is feisty and much more capable that the men of the plague society. My feelings about the characters changed throughout the novel. I felt Symon was irritating and a bit drippy to start with but began to like him as time progressed. The members of the Society for The Prevention and Cure of Plague are a bunch of bickering unlikeable men and they take it upon themselves to try to solve the murders. They gave some quite funny moments for me. The story meanders a bit but ramps up towards the end with more tension until the penny drops and Symon finally unmasks the killer. Penelope was my favourite, strong and bolshy she really was born in the wrong century, streetwise and clever she guides Symon but gets herself into trouble in the process. A good solid piece of historical fiction and very enjoyable! ✩✩✩✩

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chantelle Hazelden

    A big thank you to Viper Books and Netgalley for the ARC. The Plague Letters - the setting, London 1665 during the Great Plague. This seemed like such a fitting read for the here and now. I couldn't help but draw comparisons to what we are facing now with Covid 19. Meaning that although the story would be classed as historical fiction, this is a novel that ends up feeling rather relevant. Will we never learn? Back to the novel, not solely about the plague (although this of course plays a big part), A big thank you to Viper Books and Netgalley for the ARC. The Plague Letters - the setting, London 1665 during the Great Plague. This seemed like such a fitting read for the here and now. I couldn't help but draw comparisons to what we are facing now with Covid 19. Meaning that although the story would be classed as historical fiction, this is a novel that ends up feeling rather relevant. Will we never learn? Back to the novel, not solely about the plague (although this of course plays a big part), we follow Rector Symon and his chosen assistant Penelope as they embark on a mission to find a killer. It all seems like a race against time. As doctors try to quickly create a cure for this horrid disease that seems to be taking lives at a rapid rate, there is another problem lurking in the dark. A murderer, quietly roaming the streets of London, seemingly running experiments of their own on the poor sick and dying, innocent people. A well written and expertly researched book. It was fascinating to see the spread of infection. The use of maps alongside the body count. As the numbers continued to rise, the sense of urgency rose. I found myself completely immersed in it all, partly due to the concept of the story itself, also because of the way it was written. The language used, I found myself using accents in my head as I read. What also set this book apart from others was the fact that most of the characters are actually quite awful, and when I say that I mean that they aren't likeable. Quite crude and unpleasant. I'll admit there were some who I thought perhaps deserved to know what catching the plague would feel like. I'm looking forward to holding a physical copy in my hands.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    I was watching an old episode of Restoration Home when what should appear but St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, being used as an example of similar architecture to a chapel being converted in Wales. This reminded me that I had to review this book, having finished it last week. I struggled initially to get into this, despite relishing the idea of a murder mystery wrapped up in a plague. It's a very clever idea that took a long time to get established. I debated stopping, twice, but ultimately am gl I was watching an old episode of Restoration Home when what should appear but St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, being used as an example of similar architecture to a chapel being converted in Wales. This reminded me that I had to review this book, having finished it last week. I struggled initially to get into this, despite relishing the idea of a murder mystery wrapped up in a plague. It's a very clever idea that took a long time to get established. I debated stopping, twice, but ultimately am glad I finished it. The protagonist, Reverend Symon, isn't especially dynamic and left to his own devices it's doubtful he would have been able to figure it out on his own, particularly as he is so distracted by mooning over the Lady Elizabeth and spends an inordinate amount of time writing to and receiving letters from her in Essex, where she has gone to escape the plague that is overwhelming London. He joins the Plague Prevention Society, a group of men variously doctors, surgeons and pharmacists, who get together to discuss and find a potential cure for the pestilence that is killing so many, to see if they can perhaps help him shed any light on who is committing these murders. While I'm still somewhat unclear as to how Penelope actually became part of Symon's household, I think she is by far the most dynamic character of the bunch and would have made a much more engaging protagonist, despite the restrictions on her of the time. She is bright, clever and practical. There was a lot of information to get through before the story became more engaging at the 60-75% mark, and my suspicions about the culprit were challenged several times although ultimately proved correct. And, I'm not sure how I feel about the paranormal aspect of the story. I love paranormal mysteries, but it felt far too progressive for the time period for Symon to simply be okay with it all. It's either paranormal or it isn't. Also, The maps at the beginning of each chapter didn't, unfortunately, work on the Kindle app so that was disappointing. They would have been an excellent companion to show how quickly the plague spread. The weekly growth in numbers was staggering, however. Despite my thoughts on the above, it's a rich read with a lot of detail about the plague, its effects on London and her population, how it affected the rich and poor so differently, and those who stayed to help. An interesting, reflective read that dovetails with our current pandemic. Thank you to NetGalley, the author and publisher for the ARC to read and review. All opinions are strictly my own.

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