Wednesday, 4 July 2018

A PLAGUE ON MR PEPYS by Deborah Swift @swiftstory

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I'm a huge fan of Deborah Swift and have read all her books,most recently Pleasing Mr Pepys.

Genre: 17th Century Historical Fiction.  The Great Plague.

I LOVED this book, so much I think I may run out of superlatives!  Without doubt the best book I've read this year, and has taken over from The Gilded Lily as my previous favourite of Ms Swift's.

Set in London in the mid-late 17th century, the main characters are Bess and Will Bagwell.  Will is a modest, unassuming but exceptionally talented carpenter, while Bess is a spirited girl who comes from the dingy and dank slums and is determined to build a better life for the couple.  But from the moment they buy the house in respectable Flaggon Row, their troubles multiply.  Financial disaster is ever-looming, as one stroke of bad luck and bad judgement follows another, not helped by the slippery presence of Will's cousin Jack Sutherland, a man with the eye for a good swindle.  

Will longs for work on a ship, in dock, and Bess knows the only person who can help is Naval big shot Samuel Pepys.  But for his help there will be a price, and one which might destroy her marriage.  Pepys features in the book as a secondary character and the reason for much of what happens to the Bagwells rather than as a main character; I mention this in case potential readers think it is a book primarily about the man himself.   For me, though, the real star of the book was London itself, dirty, noisy, 17th Century London, with its dangerous characters, dodgy dealings, the vast chasm between rich and poor, social snobbery, and finally, the plague, which lurks in the background until the last quarter of the book when it takes a terrifying centre stage.  It's riveting.  The whole book is, but especially the way in which the plague takes hold of the city.

Ms Swift's characterisation is so compelling, her storytelling is a dream, and her descriptions of the time and place and the way the people lived are so vivid, so detailed and intricately researched (without you ever feeling that you're reading research notes), that I felt as if I was being given a window back in time.  A special mention for Beth's mother, Agatha, a former prostitute and wonderful character.  A short author's note at the back gives more information about Pepys and reveals the real identity of Bess Bagwell.

Utterly brilliant, you have to read it.  I've just finished it at one in the morning after being engrossed for two evenings, and had to write the review immediately.  Thank you, Deborah Swift ~ I don't think I will be able to pick up another book for a couple of days!


  1. Fascinating, years ago I read Pepys diaries.

    1. Something else I've always meant to read.... must do! You would so love this book, Rosie :)

  2. Now I want to read Pepys diaries and this book...