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by Edward Marston
Allison and Busby, January 2006
288 pages
ISBN: 0749082852

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In THE PARLIAMENT HOUSE, prolific novelist and playwright Edward Marston brings back his hero Christopher Redmayne, and Restoration London comes busily to life around the precocious young architect. Pleased with the new house that Redmayne has designed for him, a client observes that future generations would know the name of one architect named Christopher, and it won't be Wren.

Even better, having solved the murder of Gabriel Cheever, Redmayne looks forward to marrying Gabriel's sister Susan, and is getting along quite well with Susan's father, prominent dissenter Sir Julius Cheever, MP, who received his knighthood from Oliver Cromwell.

Then, a political comrade of Sir Julius is murdered in front of one of Redmayne's houses, and he suspects that Sir Julius may be in danger. To save his reputation, his potential father-in-law, and his relationship with Susan, Redmayne goes on the trail of the killer, and finds that the political agendas of Cheever and his faction are making somebody angry enough to kill.

The supporting characters are whimsically drawn. Susan's garrulous sister Brilliana Serle, and her infatuated husband Lancelot Serle make a great comic duo, whilst Christopher's elder brother Henry is a sharply drawn caricature of a Restoration court rake. When Marston throws these three characters together, the result is another potential catastrophe for Redmayne to defuse, though he ends up underestimating all three of them.

Susan is a bit boring, drawn as a combination of prize and moral compass rather than as a full-fledged character, and she fades in contrast with Brilliana, as their names suggest. But that doesn't stop THE PARLIAMENT HOUSE from being an exciting read. No scene of this novel takes place at Charles II's court: Marston rightly trusts that his broad cross-section of invented characters will prove more exciting than another literary replication of the Merry Monarch and his circle.

It's also a quietly challenging one. Marston sets up what looks like a clash of opposites, between Henry Redmayne -- "all that is wrong with the Restoration" -- and his ilk, and Sir Julius Cheever's puritan old guard, but the development of the characters show that people, and parties, don't always conform to type.

I love the suggestion that the architect Redmayne is helping to build a new society from the ruins of the old, and Marston's interruption of that idealism with the splash of blood across the doorstep of his "creation". Marston doesn't lament the Restoration, like Cheever, nor does he entirely celebrate it. Like his hero, he finds twisting paths, and follows them. I look forward to the next Redmayne mystery.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, April 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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