The Gunpowder Plot is one of those major subjects of the early Stuart era (the Jacobean period) that people tend to know about, but, in my experience, very few historical fiction works focus on the period just after that. In John Pilkington’s novel ‘Legacy’, however, we meet Robert Belstrang, a former Justice who leads a quiet life in his small town in 1616. His world is turned upside down when a neighbour comes to his door with a serious problem that leads to a dangerous mystery, with connections to some of the most powerful men in James I & VI’s government. What follows is nothing short of an adventure, with plots, and betrayal, secrets, and all within the anti-Catholic vibe of the time.
This was my first read of a Pilkington novel and I was very impressed with his ability to transport the reader to the Jacobean period without being heavy-handed with period detail and mercifully without crowbarring modern-day messages into his narrative. Pilkington has the ability to capture both the stink and general insalubriousness of an early seventeenth-century prison as well as the genteel domesticity of a wealthy lawyer’s home.
The plot was a well-developed web of intrigue and all the characters, I felt, were well-rounded. I really liked the main character, Belstrang, who comes across as a thoroughly decent and truly honourable fellow who strives to do the right thing. Along the way, he meets a wide variety of people: some are compassionate and caring, whilst others are duplicitous and conniving. Unsurprisingly, the former help him whilst the latter hinder him greatly.
I enjoy interspersing fiction reads such as this between the nonfiction I must read for my work, and I really enjoyed dipping into this for some fine entertainment. The pace was excellent—neither too slow nor too fast—I felt the book was a fine standalone read due to its satisfying ending, but it is the first in Justice Belstrang Mysteries, so there is clearly a great deal more intrigue and adventure to come.
You can read John Pilkington’s The Seventeenth Century Lady guest post from May 2020 here: Covent Garden: The 17th-Century West End