Plague by Julie Anderson #BookReview #BlogTour

 


There are many ways to die. Plague is just one of them.

Work on a London tube line is halted by the discovery of an ancient plague pit and, within it, a very recent corpse. A day later another body is found, killed in the same way, also in a plague pit. This victim is linked to the Palace of Westminster, where rumours swirl around the Prime Minister and his rivals.
As the number of deaths climbs, the media stokes fear. Government assurances are disbelieved. Everyone feels threatened. This has to be resolved and fast.
The Westminster connection enables Detective Inspector Andrew Rowlands, working alone on  a series of rapes and murders of vulnerable young people in central London, to finally persuade his superiors that there is a pattern. He is assigned to lead the case.  Cassandra Fortune, a disgraced civil servant, is given the uncomfortable task of investigating the investigation, while joining forces with Rowlands to find the killers before Parliament rises for recess.
Together they navigate the arcane world of the Palace of Westminster as the body count grows. But someone is leaking important details about the case to the press and the media ratchets up the pressure. Misinformation and malice online feeds distrust and panic and the Black Death begins to stalk the streets of London once again.
Meanwhile the commercial and political world focuses on the launch of a huge government Thames-side building programme worth billions. Powerful forces, in Parliament and the City, are competing for its spoils. How, if at all, does this link with the killings? Drawn into the melee, Cassandra Fortune finds herself the object of the attentions of one of the major players, wealthy City broker, Lawrence Delahaye. The attraction is mutual. Fortune and Rowlands discover a shadowy underground network of influence and power as they race against the clock to prevent the death of more innocents and the destruction of the Mother of Parliaments itself. Cassandra will be forced to make a terrible decision as she faces ruin. Time is running out and it's not clear what, or who, is going to survive. 

It's such a pleasure to be kicking off the blog tour for Plague today. Many thanks to Julie Anderson, Claret Press and Emma Welton from damppebbles blog tours for inviting me and for sending me a copy of the novel.

It felt peculiarly apt reading a book called Plague during these strange and uncertain times we still find ourselves in. Even though the population isn't actually at risk of contracting the bubonic plague here, there are striking similarities with the way people are manipulated by certain sections of the media, who increasingly shape rather than report on the news and who, in encouraging a mistrust of mainstream science, are complicit in the formation of angry, fearful mobs.
A different sort of plague has infected Westminster, but it's no less deadly; power and the corruptive pursuit of it lies behind the awful events, with innocent victims ruthlessly discarded by a dangerous cabal who use their insider knowledge and influence to perpetrate horrific rapes and murder. Cassandra Fortune is a civil servant working in procurement for the Deputy Prime Minister's Office. and although it's a coincidence that she's present when the body of a recently murdered young man is discovered in a centuries-old plague pit, it soon becomes apparent that she isn't all she seems.
Cassie is a fabulous main character; much of the book follows her and though written in the third person, readers are also given an insight into her thought processes. This clever device allows for a greater understanding of who she is and it's clear that whatever happened in her past has led to her being tormented by self-doubt. It's also obvious that she is desperately ambitious to re-establish her career and to regain her job at GCHQ, which ended with her reputation in tatters. It means she accepts an assignment to work with the police investigation into the murders, and her instructions to ensure no reputational damage is caused to Parliament are a double-edged sword; there's the lure of redemption if she succeeds - but she is under no illusion that she fails, her career is over.
With only seven days until the autumn recess, Cassie faces a race against time and this lends a real sense of urgency to the story. The tension increases throughout as she joins forces with DI Andrew Rowland, who has long suspected that the murders of a number of young foreign nationals are linked. The tempestuous relationship between the pair is compelling and Cassie's thoughts are particularly significant during many of their scenes, revealing her need to feel in control and her tendency to self-sabotage stressful situations. Although she is undoubtedly a principled woman, she obviously relishes being involved in the investigation and her desire to feel influential means she can't help but be drawn to those who are evidently powerful. As she and Rowland realise the Palace of Westminster is implicated in the deaths, those who walk its corridors come under suspicion but with the hypercritical media seemingly one step ahead, just who is pulling the strings and who should Cassie trust?
Julie Anderson's previous career as a Senior Civil Servant in Westminster and Whitehall ensures the sense of place is authentically evoked throughout Plague and the insights into the inner workings of  Westminster are thoroughly enjoyable. As the investigation takes Cassie and Andrew below ground, the riveting descriptions of subterranean London paint a vivid picture of the damp and murky world under the feet of the city's current inhabitants. The history of the city and how it has changed over the centuries is absolutely fascinating and adds an intriguing dimension to the story, but as dark as the tunnels underground may be, it's what goes on behind closed doors, in the echelons of power which is truly chilling. Although the narrative mostly follows Cassie, there are brief scenes interspersed throughout the book which reveal the sinister plans of a shadowy figure who is evidently in control. However, the precarious relationship between knowledge and power constantly shifts and as the novel reaches its breath-taking conclusion, I was stunned by events in the closing chapters and raced through the pages with my heart in my mouth. 
Exciting, unsettling and thought-provoking, Plague is a complex, highly topical political thriller. I loved it and can't wait to read the second book in the series, Oracle. Highly recommended.

Plague is published by Claret Press, purchasing links can be found here, please support independent bookstores whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.


About the Author


Julie Anderson was a Senior Civil Servant in Westminster and Whitehall for many years, including at the Office for the Deputy Prime Minister, the Inland Revenue and Treasury Solicitors. Earlier publications include historical adventure novels and short stories. She is Chair of Trustees of Clapham Writers, organisers of the Clapham Book Festival, and curates events across London.


Comments

  1. Thank you. It's always pleasing as an author when readers enjoy the book, but it's even better when it's obvious that they really understand it. I think, in your review, that's especially true regarding Cassandra. I'd like to hear your thoughts about her and I hope you will be able to join me in a post tour conversation, via zoom, with others who reviewed the book.

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