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Monday 19 September 2022

‘The Summer Birdcage’ by L. C. Tyler

Published by Constable,
1 September 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-47213508-7 (HB) 

This is the ninth book in the series featuring John Grey, lawyer and former spy, now Sir John Gray, a magistrate.

It is 1670 and The Duke’s Company is currently performing The Summer Birdcage, a comedy play written by Aminta, Lady Gray, wife of Sir John Gray. At the request of Lady Gray, Thomas Betterton, actor and manager of the Duke’s Company, has given the part of the Queen in the play to Kitty Burgess, who it is said has illustrated that she is a talented actress and could have a stunning future before her.

However, it becomes clear early in the story that Kitty is wilful and likes to do things her own way. One of these being not learning her lines but making than up as she goes along to the detriment of the other performers. When advised by one of the other actresses to learn her lines properly she intermates that she has had a better offer and is being picked up by a coach that very evening.

Later one of her fellow actors swears he saw her outside the theatre being bundled into a black coach driven by six black horses. And so, Kitty vanishes. But did she go willingly?

Naturally, Aminta is somewhat vexed by this turn of events. She was doing her cousin Reginald a favour; he being Kitty’s guardian.

No more is heard of Kitty until the body of a young woman is found dead beside the road in Hertfordshire. It is thought to be Kitty. So, Aminta and her husband Sir John Grey, travel to Bishop's Stortford to identify her. As the girl has been badly beaten it is difficult to tell who she is. The fact that she is holding a copy of the scrip of Aminta's play, in her hands could said to be a clue, or maybe perhaps too convenient a clue. When Aminta advises Cousin Reginald of Kitty’s disappearance, he strangely does not say he is praying for her safe return. Aminta thought that rather remiss of him, as he is a man of the cloth.

But back in London when Aminta catches sight of a young woman who she is sure is Kitty she declares that Kitty must still be alive.

Meanwhile, rumours abound at the court of King Charles 11, he who changes mistresses regularly, that Kitty was about to become his new mistress. Invited to Lord Ashley’s Ball at Exeter House, although John Gray cannot for the life of him understand why, except that the court is rife with conspiracy and much of it surrounding the missing Kitty.  As they circulate Lord Ashley asks, ‘Sir John – who do you consider the greater playwright? Dryden or your wife? Well, er… at that moment conversation ceased for the arrival of the King.
That was lucky for you, says Aminta later. Just so you know, if you had said I was better than Dryden, I would have despised your lack of good taste forever. If you had said Dryden was better, I would have poisoned your food!

It will not surprise regular readers of this series that Lord Arlington features heavily having fingers in all the pies. And Samuel Pepys, Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board is also stirring matters up. One of the King’s mistresses'
Lady Castlemaine who is currently being eased out, is rumoured to possibly having arranged for her rival to be spirited away and killed.

But a more serious rumour is surrounding is Kitty. Maybe playing a dangerous and possibly deadly role, one from which she may not survive. That is of course if she is still alive? But if so, where is she?

As with all the previous books in this highly acclaimed series, the prose is brilliantly witty. The characterisation is wonderful.  It is highly recommended.

Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

L. C. Tyler
was born in Southend, Essex, and educated at Southend High School for Boys, Jesus College Oxford and City University London. After university he joined the Civil Service and worked at the Department of the Environment in London and Hong Kong. He then moved to the British Council, where his postings included Malaysia, Thailand, Sudan and Denmark. Since returning to the UK he has lived in Sussex and London and was Chief Executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health for eleven years. He is now a full-time writer. His first novel, The Herring Seller's Apprentice, was published by Macmillan in 2007, followed by 8 further books in the series featuring Ethelred Tressider and his agent Elsie Thirkettle. The first book in a new historical series, A Cruel Necessity, was published by Constable and Robinson in November 2014. Since then, he has published eight further books in this series. The latest being The Summer Birdcage. His latest Ethelred and Elsie is Farewell My Herring.

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