I seem to have a fairly bad habit (developed at the point where I moved into general bookselling from a campus store and really started to ramp up my reading for reviewing) of reading the first book in a series and then never managing to find time to read on. I have managed to finish a few – the Wool trilogy for example or David Barnett’s Gideon Smith books – and there are some authors (like Connie Willis or Gavin Extence) I will always look out for but, sadly, my favourite hashtag seems to be #somanybookssolittletime… This is not to say that when I read the first book in a series I don’t enjoy them, that they are not good books, it’s just that I run out of time. And then, sometimes, I discover that I’ve read a book which is part way through a series and I realise that it may not even make a difference. In fact, it was only after I read the House at Bishopsgate that I realised that there were two books-worth of story leading up to the start of this one. The good news is that this book made perfect sense as a standalone novel. Backstories were sufficiently well covered that there were no blank spots (and there weren’t great swathes of ‘explanation’ at the expense of plot either) and all the characters seemed well-rounded.
The House at Bishopsgate belongs to wealthy merchant Paul Pindar and it has sat empty for years while Paul and his wife Celia live in Oriental splendour in 17th century Aleppo where he is a representative of a powerful trading company. But now they have returned to introduce Celia to London society in the reign of James 1st but that society, as is so often the way, is more interested in gossip about Celia’s past (she spent years in the harem of a sultan) and Paul’s prized jewel – a huge diamond known as the Sultan’s Blue. But, somehow, they can’t seem to shake off Lady Sydenham, a young widow they escorted home from Antwerp, and who is now settled into their home with them. Add in a secondary plotline about an ex-nun, a missing servant of Paul’s and his rather unsavoury brother Ralph and there is plenty there for any fan of historical fiction. I was reminded of early Philippa Gregory (Wideacre/Earthly Joys era stuff) which can only be a good thing. I was, to be honest, pretty much raised on Jean Plaidy so reckon I know a good historical yarn when I see one. And this one isn’t bad at all.