Scarlet Town by Leonora Nattrass

Based upon historical facts, this book is set in Helston at the time of a vote for members of parliament but not as we know it. Prior to 1832 the gentry nominated people to be MPs and then they paid off others to vote for them and work for them. Cornwall, home of tin mining, once sent 42 MPs to Parliament where as Manchester and Birmingham sent none. Amidst this electoral mess, Jago and Philpott arrive back from America to find the village in uproar and a dead man locked in a cupboard with no key on the inside. So, we have political mayhem, a murder mystery and social unrest. There is also a pig that reads the future.

The history is worn lightly and the writing is fluent and immersive, engaging us as soon as we start. In 1796 Helston was known as a ‘rotten borough‘, a small electorate but two men returned to Parliament. As the coach arrives in Helston,

. . . a strange new wave of movement was now approaching up the street, accompanied by shouts and screams that verged on panic. The crowd parted to reveal a posse of running men, mouths horribly agape in blood-red painted faces. They were in some strange ecstasy beyond noticing pain or fear as they bore down on us, wildly drunk.


Welcome home.

Into this chaos the mystery of the dead body must be solved and Nattrass leads us down dead alleys and round in rings with poisonings of critical people and what appears to be a love triangle where jealousy makes those who should know better behave badly. The plot is as messy as the times.

This is the third book in a very readable series – Black Drop, Blue Water and now Scarlet Town.

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