Here you’ll find some historical background to the novels along with bits of illustrative material for your enjoyment.
All three mysteries are set in the year 1708, in the months following the Act of Union when the nation of ‘Great Britain’ was finding its new identity. The books interweave their murder plots with the actual events of that year. Historical and fictional characters intermingle.
At this time Queen Anne’s Londoners sensed that with the turn of the century a new age had been inaugurated, and a recognisably ‘modern’ nation was taking shape. Party politics as we recognise them were beginning, and a ruthless business world, a liberated press, and a lively culture were transforming the shape of society. These are the worlds the three novels explore.
It was a time when debate and controversy were in the air, and the London coffee houses were the social media hubs of their time, gathering-places for news and intrigue, for circulating rumours and hatching plots – and therefore ideal for a writer of historical mysteries!
The beating heart of these books is the Bay-Tree Chocolate House, Covent Garden, where Widow Trotter presides over a sociable world of ideas and debate, of wit and good conversation. She and her young friends Tom (a poet) and Will (a law student) form a resolute detective trio, righting wrongs, confronting villainous conspiracies, and solving murders. In the process the three of them become caught up in the national drama.
In these three mysteries a system of power finds itself challenged by a substratum of local sociability, good humour and quiet determination, exemplified by Widow Trotter’s little kingdom of the Bay-Tree. This clash of worlds forms the novels’ social comedy and drives their plots in a combination of whodunit and conspiracy thriller.
CHOCOLATE HOUSE TREASON (2019) centres on the political crisis of January-February 1708. The Queen is mired in a sexual scandal, spies are everywhere, and party disputes are bringing violence and division. The treasonous satirist ‘Bufo’ is public enemy number one, and the Ministry is determined to silence him. Drawn into a web of intrigue that reaches from the brothels of Drury Lane to the Court of St James’s, Mary Trotter and her young friends Tom and Will race against time to unravel the political plots, solve two murders, and prevent another.
THE DEVIL’S CATHEDRAL (2021) is set in May 1708, when the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (“The Devil’s Cathedral”) was under fierce attack from the Society for the Reformation of Manners. These Puritanical reformers were determined to close it down, along with the notorious May Fair where the actors moonlighted at the fairground booths. In the novel, a leading reformer is murdered during a performance, and the company’s fate appears sealed – but Widow Trotter and her friends at the Bay-Tree Chocolate House are determined to expose the conspiracy and save the theatre. The novel follows the actors as they move from Drury Lane to the May Fair itself, where the plot reaches a truly dramatic climax.
CAPTAIN HAZARD’S GAME (2022) is set in late Autumn 1708. In this novel, murder and scandal come uncomfortably close as Widow Trotter and her friends are drawn into the frenzied world of gaming and stock-market speculation. In the years before the famous ‘South Sea Bubble of 1720 this hazardous world of Chance was unregulated. Fortunes were made overnight, and ruin could descend in a single hour. In ‘Exchange Alley’ and the illegal clubs of Covent Garden people played for high stakes, and men of power manipulated the market for their own ends. The Bay-Tree itself comes under threat as Mary Trotter, Tom and Will take on the money men and struggle to find the truth behind an ingenious system of deception.