The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton
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". . .the seedy underbelly of 17th century London."
". . .the squalid backdrop of London, from the Tower, to Newgate, to Southwark, is one of the book?s great strengths."
". . .skillful interplay between the real and the fictional give this novel a clever sophistication often missed in other historical works."
The Tower of London has its share of bloody and murderous stories. Philip Kerr’s latest novel, Dark Matter, is a worthy match for any of them. Joining the eminent scientist Isaac Newton (in his real-life role as the Warden of the Mint) is Christopher Ellis, a young graduate of Cambridge, who was destined for a law career before an illegal duel pre-emptorily ends that vocation. Newton and Ellis are charged with investigating counterfeiters during England’s Great Recoinage. Their investigations lead them down many sinister and treacherous paths, as they follow their criminals into the seedy underbelly of 17th century London.
Indeed, the squalid backdrop of London, from the Tower, to Newgate, to Southwark, is one of the book’s great strengths. As we follow in Newton’s and Ellis’s footsteps, we are exposed to their world, a London with any romantic ideals of the past stripped away, to be shown in all it’s grimy reality. In their quest to capture frauds, they encounter more subversive and greater plots, which form the crux of the novel. There is also a romantic subplot involving Ellis and Newton’s niece, which fizzles and is unfortunately only a stumbling block to the skillful workings of the mystery.
Kerr has successfully written another intelligent and enthralling page-turner and his skillful interplay between the real and the fictional give this novel a clever sophistication often missed in other historical works. Newton and his bungling apprentice deserve to sit on the shelf beside other legendary mystery-solving duos of literature.
Reviewer: Lesley Williams