A thrilling historical mystery of revolution and treachery
by Leonora Nattrass
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 14 Oct 2021 | Archive Date 13 Oct 2021
'Black Drop is a joy from start to finish... Jago is a very sympathetic hero, with all his flaws, virtues and secrets' - ANDREW TAYLOR
'A thrilling slice of pitch-dark historical fiction, led by a hugely engaging narrator' - EMMA STONEX
'A gripping, intricate story of Georgian high politics and low life' - W.C. RYAN
This is the confession of Laurence Jago. Clerk. Gentleman. Reluctant spy.
July 1794, and the streets of London are filled with rumours of revolution. Political radical Thomas Hardy is to go on trial for treason, the war against the French is not going in Britain's favour, and negotiations with the independent American colonies are on a knife edge.
Laurence Jago - clerk to the Foreign Office - is ever more reliant on the Black Drop to ease his nightmares. A highly sensitive letter has been leaked to the press, which may lead to the destruction of the British Army, and Laurence is a suspect. Then he discovers the body of a fellow clerk, supposedly a suicide.
Blame for the leak is shifted to the dead man, but even as the body is taken to the anatomists, Laurence is certain both of his friend's innocence, and that he was murdered. But after years of hiding his own secrets from his powerful employers, and at a time when even the slightest hint of treason can lead to the gallows, how can Laurence find the true culprit without incriminating himself?
A thrilling historical mystery, perfect for readers of C.J. Sansom, Andrew Taylor, Antonia Hodgson and Laura Shepherd-Robinson
'A sparkling evocation of a distant time which is remarkably similar to the current one. I loved it' - TREVOR WOOD
'Well written and well constructed, Jago is a character that readers will want to follow' - ALIX NATHAN
'This opium-fuelled gem is a murderous romp through the tangled roots of British democracy' - JANICE HALLETT
'Superb. Vivid and fast-paced, it's an impressive achievement and hugely enjoyable' - GUY MORPUSS
'An astounding debut novel, written with style and confidence' - A.J. WEST
'Black Drop is a joy from start to finish. I particularly liked the glimpses of the grubby machinery of government from the inside, giving a real sense of the intrigues behind closed doors. Jago is a very sympathetic hero, with all his flaws, virtues and secrets, and Philpott made me want to smile and cheer' - Andrew Taylor, author of The Ashes of London
'A gripping, intricate story of Georgian high politics and low life. Leonora Nattrass's historical spy novel is top notch' - W.C. Ryan, author of A House of Ghosts
'A riveting political thriller, set at a fulcrum-point in global history. The setting is viscerally immersive and the characters spring to life from the page. This masterful narrative of deception, intrigue and heroism unfolds with compelling pace, wry humour and acute psychological observation. Gripping, moving and utterly engaging' - Philippa East, author of Little White Lies
'A thrilling slice of pitch-dark historical fiction, led by a superbly engaging narrator. Entertaining and deftly written, this gripping tale of murder and treachery on the smouldering streets of eighteenth-century London deserves to be huge' - Emma Stonex, author of The Lamplighters
'Lovers of historical thrillers have a treat in store. A splendid twisting tale of murder and espionage at the political heart of Georgian Britain' - Kate Griffin, author of Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders
'In Black Drop Leonora Nattrass has done that most dangerous thing: allowed fictional characters to mingle with real ones. I'm far too cowardly to do that in my writing, but she has pulled it off. Well written and well constructed, and Jago is a character readers will certainly want to follow' - Alix Nathan, author of The Warlow Experiment
'A sparkling evocation of a distant time which is remarkably similar to the current one. I loved it. The sights, smells and eccentricities of eighteenth-century Britain are so perfectly captured that if you'd told me this was one of Dickens' lost novels I'd have completely believed it. Other fictional worlds are going to seem a lot greyer in comparison' - Trevor Wood, author of The Man on the Street
'Leonora Nattrass brings Georgian London vividly to life in a delectable dose of secrets, lies and sinister skullduggery. Take care not to swallow this tincture of intrigue in a single sitting!' - D.V. Bishop, author of City of Vengeance
'This opium-fuelled gem is a murderous romp through the tangled roots of British democracy' - Janice Hallett, author of The Appeal
'Nattrass writes so beautifully. Absolutely compelling, and so atmospheric I felt I was there, following Jago around the mean streets of eighteenth-century London' - Frances Quinn, author of The Smallest Man
'A darkly atmospheric and utterly immersive tale. Black Drop is a thrilling, revolutionary ride through the coffee houses and committee rooms of a corrupt and fearful city. Grab your hat and pipe and keep your pistols at the ready!' - Miranda Malins, author of The Puritan Princess
'Superb. Nattrass convincingly recreates eighteenth-century London as a backdrop for spies, murders, and a skilful blend of historic and imagined characters. Vivid and fast-paced, it's an impressive achievement, and hugely enjoyable' - Guy Morpuss, author of Five Minds
'An astounding debut novel, written with style and confidence' - A.J. West, author of The Spirit Engineer
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 47 members
Beautifully distilled prose. Vividly depicted scenes of eighteenth Century England, brimming with scandal, subtle humour and intrigue. Leonora Nattrass has a real talent for dialogue, which I found utterly convincing. The visceral narrative doesn't feel dated. The cast of characters was very useful as a crutch for moments when A Level History lessons eluded me. I found the novel to be a good length, which is important for historical fiction. Each chapter was a palatable and exhilarating dose. Thank you for the opportunity to read Black Drop in exchange for honest feedback.
This is a delicious book, full of political intrigue, spies, dubious characters and numerous twists and turns. I was utterly transported back to 1790’s London, the language, descriptions, characters all felt spot on for the time period, whilst also being accessible to the modern reader. This in itself is a triumph. The author has clearly researched the period in great detail and I love books where I learn something - this book being as educative as it is entertaining and page turning. It is not a period I have read much about since doing A’level history, and I enjoyed it immensely. Very much looking forward to the author’s next book! A wonderful debut indeed.
Sometimes spy novels can come off as a bit dry and full of their own importance. I'm not going to name any names, but the book I'm thinking of rhymes with Shmiley's Shmeeple. The same can be said of historical fiction, which ranges from the bodice ripper to the dry quasi-textbook. It can be hard to find books in these genres that balance a good story with accuracy and a decent sense of humour -- the 'would like to meet' of books, if you will. Black Drop ticked all of these boxes for me. Set in London during the French Revolution, Black Drop is about Laurence Jago, a lowly clerk at the Foreign Office who used to spy for France, but now desperately wants to remain loyal to England. Unfortunately, things are not that straightforward, and Jago is dragged into a game of politics and espionage where it's almost impossible to tell who is on which side. I think the thing that really makes Black Drop is its wide cast of supporting characters. I really loved Philpott, a bombastic journalist who seems to change his passionate opinions as quickly as the wind; and Anne Bellingham, Laurence's love interest who is stuck with the lot of a high society woman but seems to understand the political game so much better than the men around her -- certainly than Laurence himself. Nattrass also perfectly brings 18th-century London to life, vividly describing episodes at attractions like the menagerie, the pleasure gardens, and the wax works. All the locations we might associate with a certain season of Blackadder, but made so much more real by the characters who inhabit them. I highly recommend Black Drop to historical readers who are looking for something a bit more nuanced than Philippa Gregory, a bit more accessible than Hilary Mantel, and a bit more exciting than Alison Weir.
I couldn’t put this book down. A historical thriller set in 1794 featuring Laurence Jago, a reluctant spy addicted to Black Drop, trying to survive in London on the edge of violence. I received a free review copy from Serpent’s Tail/Viper/Profile in exchange for my honest, unedited feedback. In 1794, Laurence Jago is an ambitious clerk at the Foreign Office but has a secret- well a few secrets- which could lead to him being tried for treason. He becomes a suspect when a highly sensitive letter is leaked to the press which could cause a major blow to the British Army's war effort When Laurence discovers the body of another clerk, the blame is conveniently shifted but he knows the clerk is innocent. Can Jago find the true culprit without incriminating himself or falling into addiction? I couldn’t put this book down and found myself hooked into reading late into the night with each new revelation and twist of which there are many! We know from the start that this is the written confession of Laurence Jago, in 1794, who has succeeded in keeping his spying and his French ancestry a secret from the Foreign Office. The confession adds an extra layer of peril and tension to the story as Jago's fate is difficult to predict through the course of the book. Jago is a flawed character, impulsive and rushing headlong into danger, opens his mouth when he shouldn’t and is full of repressed emotions which he tries to ease with the help of Laudanum. He is not the usual slick, sophisticated spy but is more human, sympathetic and all too realistic. His slow descent into addiction was realistically described. The author seamlessly blends historical and fictional characters with their own agenda confounding poor Jago. Philpott and Theodore Jay provide humour and enhance this potentially dark story, I was fascinated by the author’s note at the end of the book about Lord Grenville and his networks of spies but also how some of the stranger events in the book were based on true events. The writing clearly evocates the atmosphere of 1794 London and I could almost feel the grime and filth of the streets of London. The descriptions bring to life the differences between the offices of Downing Street and the seediness of the back streets of London and a rural, pre-industrial England. I haven’t read much fiction based in this time so the French revolution’s impact on England, the signing of a treaty between Britain and the new USA and the Anglo-French war felt fresh and new, Unfortunately, the xenophobia and prejudice sound all too familiar.1794, was a time when far too few people were allowed to vote and the political struggle to try and change this form another important strand in the book and neatly dovetails into the main plot. Content warning Hanging, references to suicide and addiction. Perfect for fans Who like spy thrillers or historical crime in a historical setting with plenty of twists and turns. This reminds me of some of the earlier books in the Shardlake Series by C.J Ransome. Summary Five stars- I loved this book and I would happily read more books by this author particularly if they are about Lord Grenville’s spies and his spy network.
Excellent historical crime and intrigue based on real characters and events in late 18th century England. Lawrence Jago is a great character who is totally believable, a good sense of humour and clever with it. Life is hard for anyone not from a titled family and Jago has to use all his faculties to survive and satisfy his sense of justice. A satisfying read with all the hallmarks of good historical fiction.
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we accidentally become a French spy embedded in the English government. Such is the predicament of Laurence Jago, a clerk in the Foreign Office during the late 18th century, a time when said government is navigating a diplomatic negotiation with America, war with France (which is itself mid-Reign of Terror), and the impending London trial of political radical/shoemaker Thomas Hardy. All this and more Jago must navigate. Black Drop is, largely, his written confession for treason, which he is technically guilty of - but in perhaps the most hapless way imaginable. He’s a man about whom friends would probably say things like “oh, Laurence means well,” if he had more than approx. three friends - which restrained number is quickly reduced by a suicide that turns out to be a framed murder. Jago is set on a tense adventure of political intrigue, where some plots are real and some imaginary. Nattrass has made a spellbinding if unreliable narrator of Jago, not because he is deliberately concealing things, but because he is unaware of his own biases and relative lack of importance, and because he writes with some authority as an audience we remain largely on his side. In particular Jago seems not to notice that he is high on the titular Black Drop opiate quite a lot of the time, until it reaches the point that he’s completely off his gourd. You view the rest of the rambunctious cast (some fictionalised-ish versions of real historical figures, like the future PM Canning) through Jago’s eyes, and the story subtly changes in line with his opinions. The supporting characters are excellent, putting me in mind of period political cartoons of the 18th century, with a firm favourite being proto-tabloider Philpott, simultaneously farcical and shred, genial and calculating. But I shouldn’t be too mean to poor old Jago. There are so many twists and turns and layers to the mystery and murder in Black Drop that it would bamboozle anyone - and certainly did me. In the end it was more than enough to take a romp - an overused word, but entirely correct in this case - through a historical London teeming with life, in the way a dog's fur can be teeming with fleas. Nattrass gives you all the smells, sights and sounds so you can really wallow in the grimness of it all. And though it is undoubtedly very dark, Black Drop is also funny, hopeful, and at times almost as much a comedy of manners as it is a political thriller. Nattrass is a deft and witty writer who cuts a dashing swathe through historical London and leaves you wanting more.