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The Bloodless Boy by Robert J. Lloyd

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

The Bloodless Boy by Robert J. Lloyd is published with Melville House and is described as ‘an absorbing literary thriller that introduces two new indelible heroes to historical crime fiction. It is also a powerfully atmospheric recreation of the darkest corners of Restoration London, where the Court and the underworld seem to merge, even as the light of scientific inquiry is starting to emerge…’

The background to The Bloodless Boy’s recent publication is a real good-news story. Originally self-published by the author in 2014, following twenty years of research, it was a bookseller who was the catalyst for its reincarnation today. Dennis Johnson of Melville House was recommended The Bloodless Boy by a trusted bookseller and was so enthralled by Robert J. Lloyd’s writing, he offered him a publishing deal.

“I owe my thanks for getting to publish it to its deeply gifted author, of course…but also to a bookseller being a champion for a book. Something we all are, of course, at one point or another. But I think if you dip into this one, this could be an occasion where we all become champions together” – Dennis Johnson, Co-founder and publisher, Melville House

The Bloodless Boy is a lush read for anyone with a passion for historical fiction. Set in London in 1678, Lloyd takes his readers right into the streets of a city as it struggled to reinvent itself following the Great Fire in 1666, which completely gutted the medieval parts of the city. Oliver Cromwell was no more, with his head set on a spike outside Parliament, where it remained for the duration of Charles II’s reign. A time of great change was upon the city and its inhabitants with the restoration of the king and a new order was established. Catholics were not trusted and rumours of murderous plots abounded. Suspicion was rife and folk were mistrustful of others.

But in the midst of all the upheaval there was curiosity and progress among the academics as the research, and the knowledge accumulated, was opening up a whole new world of wisdom. Out of this grew the Royal Society for the Improving of Natural Knowledge where Mr Robert Hooke was the Curator of Experiments. Science, as we know it today, was at its cusp under the term ‘New Philosophy’ and there was a deep interest among many, leading all the way up to the king, Charles II, who apparently had his own ‘elaboratory’ in Whitehall.

When the body of a small boy is discovered one snowy, bleak winter’s morning on the banks of the Fleet River (which I understand is known as London’s best known lost river!) there is shock and horror, as his body has been drained of all its blood. The authorities, for fear of rumour and repercussions, plan to keep it under wraps as much as possible and look to Robert Hooke for assistance. The body is removed to his elaboratory, where it is immersed in a liquid to prevent further decomposition while they try to unearth the facts. But London is awash with speculation of a plot against the king and soon the Catholic are being targeted. Hooke is sceptical from the beginning and tries to wash his hands of the whole affair but his able colleague and former apprentice, Harry Hunt, is curious. Who is this mysterious boy? Why is there so much intrigue with every step forward and what is the meaning of the very cryptic, coded message that has come into his hands?

As the mystery deepens, conspiracy theories abound. Dangerous threats, evil foe, skulduggery and subterfuge with a dash of science and adventure all come together to create a seriously cracking and compulsive read. The level of research is quite extraordinary, becoming really evident when you are immersed in Restoration England, with all its smells and sounds. Robert J. Lloyd takes the atmospheric novel to a whole new level with The Bloodless Boy. The vivid descriptions, the macabre nature of the discovery of a bloodless young boy, the fascinating insights into the fundamentals of modern science and the factual nature of much of history, all combine to give an authentic and very educational reading experience.

Hooke and Hunt will be back, with two further books planned in this series, which will include some more renowned historical individuals. Although steeped in historical facts, these two intrepid investigators get involved in all sorts of adventures and capers, and, as early scientists, it is really fascinating to see how they use their scientific knowledge to investigate the case.

The Bloodless Boy highlights the harsh and brutal consequences that emanated from the early study of science and its experimentation. Brimming with in-depth and expertly depicted facts, intertwined around a fictional tale of murder and intrigue, The Bloodless Boy is an intricately woven tale, a really astute and insightful debut.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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