About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Plague by C.C. Humphreys

(23. – 820.) Plague by C.C. Humphreys – In the spring of 1665 Captain William Coke is in a pub marking two well dressed men and a lovely woman. She is wearing an even more beautiful necklace. Coke, who fought for the King in England’s Civil War, is impoverished and has become a highway man.

He leaves the inn to arrange an ambush of their coach. He is surprised when the the driver of their coach refuses to stop when Coke confronts the coach with a brace of pistols (loaded only with powder) and calls upon him to “Stand!” When the horses stop on their own he finds the coachman and the passengers have all been murdered. He notes they have been butchered not merely killed.

Hearing a horn and hunting dog Coke flees but not before taking the necklace.

In pursuit is a London thief taker, Pittman (a Quaker he prefers to be called plain “Pittman” not Mr. Pittman), determined to capture the infamous Captain Cock. (The subtle difference in the surname of the Captain sought by the thief taker has kept Coke a free man.)

Finding the brutally murdered driver and passengers Pittman is taken aback for Captain Cock had been a thief but never a violent highwayman. Yet the evidence is clear it was Cock. A pistol belonging to the Captain has been left inside the coach.

A massive reward of 30 guineas is offered for the capture of the Monstrous Cock.

In London Mrs. Sarah Chalker, one of the first women to act upon an English stage, is rehearsing a play.

An admirer seeks to become too familiar. Her husband, John Chalker, is determined to find and thrash the presumptious individual.

Coke loves the theatre. His connections with the Chalkers lead to more violence.

Lurking in the background is the “Plague”. Each year London experiences plague deaths but in 1665 the numbers are rising …..

The plague is present through the City. It strikes with a fierce intensity. In desperate attempts to prevent its spread the authorities will board up the inhabitants of any house in which a person has died of the plague. Only when it is clear the plague has run its course through the house will be the boards be taken down.

Fifth Monarchists, staunch believers who focus on the Book of Revelation in the Bible, see the plague supporting their conviction the Apocalypse is nigh.

There is an explosive mix of characters and plague and religious fervour.

What happens when Coke and Pittman meet is a genuine surprise.

I should really have enjoyed this book. I love learning history through fiction. The book has intriguing characters including Coke, Pittman and Chalker. There is the constant tension of the Plague underlying the mystery. The story moves fluidly. It does not defy belief. The ending is plausible.

Yet, yet, yet I found it just alright. I was affected by the constant grimness of 1665 London life in the book. The city is dirty, actually filthy. It is overcrowded. Most people are hungry and scrambling to exist. Alcohol abuse is rampant. The ugliness of life in 1665 London is overwhelming.

With regard to life in London I thought of the quote of Thomas Hobbes from The Leviathan written in 1651:

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

It is rare a setting so negatively impacts my reading of a book. Plague is such an exception.

Plague was the last of the shortlist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Mystery Novel I have read. It was the Award winner and I congratulate C.C. Humphreys. As I did last year I will shortly make my own ranking of the shortlist.

Plague also becomes the 2nd book I have read for the 9th Canadian Book Challenge hosted at the Book Mine Set blog.


  1. I'm rather pleased to read that you were a bit "meh" about this one Bill - I'm half way through it myself and not finding myself keen to get back to it whenever I stop. It's not bad but just doesn't terribly compel me. It's always nice to know I'm not completely alone.

    And I should love it - I adore the plague (I don't mean that in an odd way - just that I find it fascinating and have always loved books and movies about it as well as non-fiction studying of it).

    Oh well.

    1. Bernadette: Thanks for the comment. Your description of not "keen" to going back to the book is apt. I will look forward to your review. Most memorably I will remember your "adoration" of the plague.

  2. This certainly has the makings of what could be a great book, Bill. I'm sorry to hear that you were underwhelmed. But that's the thing; atmosphere and setting can make all the difference. If the life described in the book is that grim, it's understandable that you weren't really gripped

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Your mention of atmosphere also applies to my reservation.

  3. The subject matter sounds interesting, but I will wait and see. Always glad to find about a Canadian author that is new to me.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. He has written several other books. I hope to read another for a better sense of how much I like his books.