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by Mary Lawrence
Kensington, April 2020
358 pages
ISBN: 1734736100

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The fifth, and probably last, book in Mary Lawrence's Bianca Goddard series is as atmospheric and engaging as the previous four. Readable as a stand-alone novel or as an introduction to the series, THE LOST BOYS OF LONDON is set in the last years of the reign of Henry VIII. The king's wars with Scotland and France and his disagreements with both the Catholic church and the reformer Martin Luther and his followers have his country in turmoil. Lawrence doesn't tread the well-trodden ground of the historical events, assuming, perhaps, that her readers are familiar enough with at least the broad outline of the history of the period that a history lesson isn't needed. Besides, this is a mystery novel. What Lawrence does do exceptionally well is show the effects of the historical events on the everyday citizens of London while spinning a thought-provoking, twisting plot for a murder mystery.

Life on the streets of Tudor London is hard for everyone, perhaps especially children, and this is one of the evident themes from the very beginning of THE LOST BOYS OF LONDON. The novel opens with a terrifying chase through the narrow passages and stinking alleys of the city with a young boy fearing the loss of a finger at best and his life at worst. Shortly after this episode, a young boy is found hanged from a drain spout high on a church wall. While the murder is not in Constable Patch's territory, he's the man who decides to solve the mystery, and he immediately calls in Bianca Goddard to help. With her husband John away in Scotland fighting the king's war, Bianca has been working to earn a living by concocting her herbal cures, but she's quick to join Patch in the search for the murderer. When another boy is killed and Bianca's young friend Fisk goes missing, Bianca becomes even more deeply involved, afraid that Fisk may be the next victim.

Alternating between London scenes and battle scenes in Scotland, Lawrence shows the grim aspect of life in both places—the hardships, the filth, the overarching sense that the king's actions make mere pawns of ordinary citizens—but also highlights the friendships, love, and humanity that overcome those grim aspects. While Lawerence is adept at creating a palpable atmosphere for the reader with telling details that don't distract from the story, she also does a nice job of thickening the story, including subplots that are both disturbing and informative, serving to give dimension to her characters and illustrate the time period more fully. The murdered boys being found hanging from churches, as well as the roles priests and disenfranchised monks play in the story raise questions about the church's changing role and expose the ambitions, greed, and controversies within the church. But Lawrence's depictions of the battles and their aftermath, the struggles of women left at home to find ways to feed their children while the men are away fighting, and her focus on the plight of children bring up further questions that lend depth to the plot.

All in all, THE LOST BOYS OF LONDON has nice suspense, period-evoking details, and a clever plot that not only keeps the pages turning but also invites contemplation of the entwined actions of a leader and his subjects—and the ever-widening ripple effects of the consequences of every action taken by anyone.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, October 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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