Cover image for Unnatural fire : a Countess Ashby de la Zouche mystery
Unnatural fire : a Countess Ashby de la Zouche mystery
Morgan, Fidelis, 1952-
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Morrow, [2000]

Physical Description:
356 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Restoration London, 1699-Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche, Baroness Penge, Countess of Clapham, and former mistress to King Charles 11, as fallen on hard times. jailed in the notorsious debtors' prison, the Fleet, the Countess finds her only way out is to embark on a career selling sensational and explicit stories to one of London's leading tabloids.

Joining forces with her loyal ex-maidservant Alpiew, the formerly pampered and proper Countess sets out to make a living by working for he scandal sheets --a line of work that inevitably leads her through some of the seamier highways and byways of the city. And she and Alpiew even find a welcome additional source of income when they are approached by a stranger who asks them to follow her husband and gather evidence to prove he's committing adultery. But the uncomfortable job of trailing after the handsome merchant in the depths of winter-whether to the half-constructed St Paul's Cathedral or through the notorious dives south of the Strand ends abruptly in Covent Garden churchyard with a brutal murder.

Implicated in the crime, the Countess and Alpiew find themselves drawn into a complex labyrinth of deceit and violence-the key to which might lie in the mysterious world of alchemy. And the more they investigate, the more complex the picture becomes, involving everyone from the most decrepit back-alley criminals to some of the most influential people in all the land.

Unnatural Fire is a wonderfully funny, lively, and audacious novel with a cast of characters that leap off the page. But underlying the vivacity and humor is a riveting mystery that perfectly captures the dark and bawdy underbelly of life in London at the turn of the eighteenth century.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

British actress and playwright Morgan's (Hangover Square) love of Restoration comedy fires her first novel, a bawdy romp featuring a pair of unlikely female sleuths: the intrepid 60-year-old Lady Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche, who was once Charles II's mistress, and her former personal maid, the buxom, alluring Alpiew. Desperate for money, the countess and Alpiew join forces to write articles for a London scandal sheet, but get sidetracked following a well-to-do merchant, Beau Wilson, at the behest of his worried wife, who is suspicious of his long, unexplained absences from home. As they trail Beau around London's seedier districts, the countess and Alpiew attend a play or two as well as a lecture on the eclipse of the sun (due later that year of 1699), comment wittily on the state of the theater and scientific learning and eventually stumble on their quarry, his throat cut from ear to ear, one night in Covent Garden. Like a comic Restoration play, the action proceeds pell-mell, replete with bad puns and knockabout farce. The discovery of a secret "elaboratory" where Beau dabbled in the "hermetic arts" (alchemy), a fishing outing to the country, the murder of the Wilsons' loyal servant, Betty, and a cipher in alchemical symbols all lead in the end to a surprising plot involving King William himself. Fans of light historical mysteries are sure to be amused. (Mar. 16) Forecast: The BBC and Channel 4 are adapting Unnatural Fire for a TV movie; A&E and PBS are both interested in U.S. rights. Adaptation by either of the latter will boost sales of the book down the road. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved