Atmosphere, atmosphere, and more atmosphere. I enjoy opening up a book and falling flat-faced into atmosphere. The Sweet Smell of Decay by Paul Lawrence is full of it. Hate to say this, but at times one can almost smell the decay or filth that emanates in 1664 London.
In the book, hero Harry Lytle is described as looking exactly like his name. Sometimes this causes a little scuffle as he defends his short non-bald self. Other times he laughs it off and quickly changes the subject. There is an instant likability to him. Readers can identify with this humanistic approach to handling an insult.
Lytle has been dispatched to the seedier side of London by his father. He is to investigate his cousin’s (for whom he has never met) odd murder. A one-time beautiful creature all of 20 years, she lies stretched across the St. Bride’s pulpit with her once green eyes gouged out. She has lain there for seven days awaiting his arrival.
Aiding in the investigation is one time Constable and all time butcher, David Dowling. Unlike the famous Holmes and Dr. Watson, Dowling has all the wits while Lytle seems to be suffering from a constant hangover. The duo makes an incredibly odd yet cohesive couple.
As for the body, “Her face was white, so white that it must have been her complexion before death also. Pale orange freckles were still visible upon her nose and cheeks, though the rest of her face was now covered with a thin layer of green mould, which hid all subtleties of skin tone. What looked like moss had started to grow about the edges of the thin rope that was still tied across her mouth, biting into its corners so that she seemed to smile. It was not a happy smile, more like the smile of one that has swallowed a fly thinking it was a currant, yet would feign that it was a currant to those watching suspiciously.”
Can you feel the cold damp, mossy atmosphere? As you follow the duo on search for the killers, the atmosphere becomes aromatic. They speak of the London streets and its underground gaols as places where to hold your breath because of the smell is impossible. One would turn blue before the next door.
This is the first book in “an exciting new series of historical thrillers” by Lawrence. His second book, A Plague of Sinners, sports more rating stars from readers than the one I hold in my hands. If you are looking for a great couple of reads, check out the Chronicles of Harry Lytle.