The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys Jack Jewers Moonflower Books, €20
Debuts don’t come better than The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys by Jack Jewers. Leaving aside the historical elements and the fact Pepys was a real person, this is a page-turning crime thriller.
Pepys is a man moving up, but the Restoration Court is fraught with factions and conspiracies. It’s 1669 and Pepys, with his former servant and now friend Will, is dispatched to Portsmouth to investigate Royal Navy finances and the murder of the last man sent to find the missing money.
As his investigations begin, things become complicated. The navy are not co-operative, an attempt is made on his life, and he quickly realises he cannot trust anyone. All of this is set against the background of the threat of imminent war with the Dutch.
Pepys’ personal life is faring no better. His wife has left him because of his repeated infidelities, someone has discovered a damaging document from his youth that could get him hanged for treason, and he’s suffering from severe pain and blood in his urine.
The latter turns out to be massive kidney stones and in the middle of his various investigations he undergoes the most gruesome surgery imaginable – without the aid of an anaesthetic. I had to unclench every part of my body after reading it: men, this is your ‘Trigger Warning’.
Pepys is a flawed hero. He is sexually incontinent (the book opens with him fleeing a burning brothel), a tad pompous, over-sensitive and a wimp. Yet he’s also sympathetic, brave and wants to do the right thing.
Apart from the odd queen, historically women have been largely ignored. Jewers takes time to include the voices and perspective of females. Seventeenth century women lived in constant fear of male violence both in their homes and in the streets, with little official protection.
Enter proto-feminist Lady Charlotte de Vere and her very literal take on empowering women. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I really approve of her methods. I’m sure many other women will too.
Jewers, like the best historical novelists, has done his research. He recreates the world of 1669 in a vivid, realistic, and natural way. Fashions change, slang changes (the men in the book frequently refer to their ‘cods’) but people remain the same and Jewers’s characters are as relevant today as they were 350 years ago.