Some authors of historical fiction (see Geraldine Brooks) are so caught up by their research that plot and characters are afterthoughts or cliches applied to hold together what really ought to be nonfiction. Robert J. Lloyd, in contrast, paints 1679 England, and in this caper, France, too, with effortless ease. Homing in on a mysterious murder of the Queen’s dwarf, the author sets Robert Hooke and his assistant Harry Hunt on the investigatory trail. They are a perfect duo, because Hooke was, in real life, one of the first scientists of modern history. He and Hunt use the scientific method and are slowly breaking the shackles of one thousand years of church indoctrination.
Roiling in the background are deadly conflicts between Anglicans and Papists. Isaac Newton makes a guest appearance as do other scientists of the day while poor Harry, in love with Hooke’s niece, Grace, has to uncover the mystery of the murder while learning to stand on his own two feet. The plot is preposterous and believable at the same time and local color is imparted so seemlessly that the somewhat complex question of how the dwarf met his demise is not that important.