I was thrilled to read D.W. Bradbridge’s second book, A Soldier of Substance, after reading his first book called A Winter’s Siege and loving it (click on the title to read that former review). He’s a superb writer–very intricate, detailed, yet entertaining, as well as vibrant, suspenseful, and of course, the use of wonderful vocabulary always wins points with me. As well he has a way of capturing in pristine fashion a time and place based on historical research mixed with a bit of imagination.
With A Soldier of Substance he completely delivered on all those levels and beyond. I was completely compelled by where the story might be going from very early on. He intricately wove plot points together with surprises and twists that made me smile or sit up straighter, urging me on to read this animated murder mystery that also carried with it an enormous amount of historical intrigue just right for some long nights of reading. I was swept away by his descriptions and immersed in Daniel Cheswis–the main character who is the constable from the first book turned detective, spy, and now possible cheese vendor–and his adventures in a way that made me want to be his right hand woman. I suppose the cheese had something to do with that as well…I mean I am a lover of cheese. *smile*
Speaking of cheese, the setting of Chester, with their Cheshire cheese, was like historical heaven for me! I LOVED the historical tidbits and his particulars of the setting really astounded me and made me a very happy reader. Taking place in the late 1600s I really enjoyed learning about the “row” system in Chester, where the residential houses were lined in front by the merchant shops, as well as each of the various merchant areas such as the Buttershops Row (where the Seaman family comes into play, of whom many Bradbridge fictionalized except William Seaman who was actually the person first recorded to have a shipment of Cheshire cheese), Bakers Row (his details made my mouth water), Mercers’ Row, and so on. I really enjoyed how he gave me enough to allow a proper picture in my head. I was captivated by the specifications he meandered me through during dinner parties, those of which he made me jealous I was not in attendance, and yet, he also had amazing characterization and fashion sense of the time. I loved all the supporting characters–they were very well done and Bradbridge did a super job of giving each an air of mysteriousness.
Of course these are just the type of additives that Bradbridge includes surrounding several plots that are intertwined as smooth as spreading cream cheese. There is the intrigue and suspense factor, with the Royalists versus the Parliament sympathizers and their preparation for and subsequent siege of Lathom House, run by Lady Derby. The various spy “tools” and tricks that were strewn through the story were so original and creative that I found myself quite pleased, sometimes more than even when reading my beloved Bond novels. I think Bradbridge utilized some of the most unique spy and mystery methods for clues than I’ve read in any other historical mystery. I would list some of my favorites he used, but I don’t want to give away any of your own reading excitement.
As for the mystery, of which a woman is murdered with a cheese wire, that was also very well done and he certainly kept me guessing up to the end. I was held in suspense as he carried me away to the military tents and maneuvers, which was also excellent in terms of historical and military accuracy as well as details, while dropping clues along the way to entice my mind. It takes quite a bit for my mind not to wander and I have to say it never did in regards to this mystery.
This would make such a fun Masterpiece Theatre mystery movie or mini-series! Living in America, it was interesting to read about these smaller parts of British history and civil war that we don’t often hear about here. I really like how Bradbridge, in both of his books, really delves into the history of the region where he lives and brings history to life.
A Soldier of Substance is an entertaining historical mystery that makes for a perfect weekend, coupled with Ye Olde Cheshire cheese, crackers, and a glass of Bordeaux! This novel has excellent and precise writing and impressive period details!
A Soldier of Substance, Synopsis~
Series: Daniel Cheswis Mystery
Genre: Historical Mystery
The smoke of parliamentary musket, cannon, and mortar fire is in the air around the royalist stronghold of Lathom House. Though guards still stand atop its walls, it is besieged on all sides, and it is only a matter of time until the house, along with its embittered and unwavering countess, Lady Charlotte de Tremouille, falls to Parliament’s might. Yet somehow, a royalist spy still creeps, unseen, through its gates, and brings the countess Parliament’s secrets.
Barely recovered from the trials of the last few months, Daniel Cheswis is torn from his family and sent north, to uncover the identity of the traitor; though before he can even begin, Cheswis finds himself embroiled in a murder. A woman has been garrotted with cheese wire in her Chester home, suggesting there is more than just the usual hatreds of war at play.
As lives are lost and coats are turned on both sides, Cheswis is tasked with finding the murderer, uncovering the traitor, and surviving his soldierly duty long enough to see Lathom House fall.
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Author D.W. Bradbridge, Biography~
“The inspiration for The Winter Siege came from a long-standing interest in genealogy and local history. My research led me to the realisation that the experience endured by the people of Nantwich during December and January 1643-44 was a story worth telling. I also realised that the closed, tension-filled environment of the month-long siege provided the ideal setting for a crime novel.
“History is a fascinating tool for the novelist. It consists only of what is remembered and written down, and contemporary accounts are often written by those who have their own stories to tell. But what about those stories which were forgotten and became lost in the mists of time?
“In writing The Winter Siege, my aim was to take the framework of real history and fill in the gaps with a story of what could, or might have happened. Is it history or fiction? It’s for the reader to decide.”
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