It’s almost exactly a year since I reviewed The Bloodless Boy by Robert J. Lloyd in a post you’ll find here. Consequently, when Nikki Griffiths invited me to participate in the blog tour for Robert J. Lloyd’s second book in the Hunt and Hooke series, The Poison Machine, I simply had to take part. I’m delighted to share my review today.
Published by Melville House on 27th October 2022, The Poison Machine is available for purchase here.
The Poison Machine
In a thrilling sequel to The Bloodless Boy —a New York Times Best New Historical Novel of 2021 — combining the colour and adventure of Alexandre Dumas and the thrills of Frederick Forsyth — early scientists Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke of the Royal Society stumble on a plot to kill the Queen of England . . .
London, 1679 — A year has passed since the sensational attempt to murder King Charles II, but London is still a viper’s nest of rumoured Catholic conspiracies, and of plots against them in turn. When Harry Hunt — estranged from his mentor Robert Hooke — is summoned to the remote and windswept marshes of Norfolk, he is at first relieved to get away from the place.
But in Norfolk, he finds that some Royal workers shoring up a riverbank have made a grim discovery — the skeleton of a dwarf. Harry is able to confirm that the skeleton is that of Captain Jeffrey Hudson, a prominent member of the court once famously given to the Queen in a pie. Except no one knew Hudson was dead, because another man had been impersonating him.
The hunt for the impersonator, clearly working as a spy, will take Harry to Paris, another city bedevilled by conspiracies and intrigues, and back, with encounters along the way with a flying man and a cross-dressing swordswoman — and to the uncovering of a plot to kill the Queen and all the Catholic members of her court. But where? When?
The Poison Machine is a nail-biting and brilliantly imagined historical thriller that will delight readers of its critically acclaimed predecessor, The Bloodless Boy.
My Review of The Poison Machine
There’s a new investigation afoot.
I thoroughly enjoyed being back in the company of Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke. Robert J. Lloyd creates such a vivid sense of setting that the writing has a filmic quality providing a truly visual experience for the reader. It means The Poison Machine would make a marvellous television series and although the story is set in the 1600s, it has a Dickensian tone to the style that feels high quality. What I also really appreciated in Robert J. Lloyd’s style is that he often uses direct speech as a counterpoint to detailed description, frequently with witty understatement so that whilst the plot is fast paced and exciting, often with unsavouriness and occasional violence, there’s humour too that provides pitch-perfect balance.
As with The Bloodless Boy, The Poison Machine plot is steeped in meticulously researched historical detail, and blended with imagined events seamlessly to create an authentic and, I felt, occasionally quite a disturbing read. So much of the religious prejudice, the political machinations and the corruption of Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke’s era is all too pertinent to today’s world, making the exciting narrative feel uncomfortably and unnervingly modern as well as historically satisfying. This is a book that entertains but also makes the reader contemplate the world around them.
I think a reader needs to set aside quality time to read The Poison Machine because I kept finding myself thinking, ‘Oh. That’s interesting. I wonder if it/they were real.’ so that I kept pausing to look up references, so fascinating was the story. I also think The Poison Machine would reward several re-reads as I think there are nuances that only become clear once the full story is known.
That said, The Poison Machine is also a fast paced adventure that explores false identity, betrayal, science, religion, relationships, culture and friendships at both an international and personal level so that the reader isn’t always sure just who the heroes and villains really are, making for cracking entertainment. What Robert J. Lloyd does so well when he reveals the truth about a character, is to make the reader aware that there are layers to everyone and a simple definition of good or bad is not easily applied. He explores humanity so effectively. There’s also a salutary consideration of being careful what you wish for mixed in with murder, abduction, diamonds, and machinations of many kinds. The Poison Machine is every bit as intense, heart-thumping and diverting as any James Bond film so enjoyed today.
I confess I was glad of the cast list at the start of the book as there are quite a few names to retain. However, following on from The Bloodless Boy, in The Poison Machine, the main characters become more distinct to the reader. I especially liked the development of Grace because she refuses to conform to the norms of the times. She’s a well balanced combination of strength and vulnerability that makes her feel all the more real. I’m not sure I could endure some of her adventures with quite such equanimity!
The Poison Machine is a cracking historical thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed. Robert J. Lloyd led me on an adventure as eloquently written as any of the literary greats of the past two hundred years. I recommend it most highly.
About Robert J. Lloyd
Robert Lloyd, the son of parents who worked in the British Foreign Office, grew up in South London, Innsbruck, and Kinshasa. He studied for a Fine Art degree, starting as a landscape painter, but it was while studying for his MA degree in The History of Ideas that he first read Robert Hooke’s diary, detailing the life and experiments of this extraordinary man. After a 20-year career as a secondary school teacher, he has now returned to painting and writing. He is the author of The Bloodless Boy, which was selected by Publishers Weekly as a Mystery Book of the Year and The New York Times as a Best New Historical Novel of 2021.
You can follow Robert on Twitter @robjlloyd. You’ll also find Robert on Facebook.
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4 thoughts on “The Poison Machine by Robert J. Lloyd”
Ooh nice I didn’t know he had a new book out. Loved bloodless boy!
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I think I enjoyed this one more!
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Interesting I’m off to order!
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