The Thief Taker (The Thief Taker Series), by C. S Quinn
It’s London in 1665 and the plague is just taking hold. A family calls for a doctor to treat their daughter. The doctor, in full plague mask, goes into the loft to visit her sickbed then leaves later saying the daughter is sleeping. Afterwards blood starts dripping from the loft. The girl’s mutilated body is found with strange markings cut into her body, including a key with three knots above it and the words “He Returns”.
This is the first murder in the book that Charlie Tuesday has to to investigate. Charlie is a “thief taker”. Most of the men who patrol the streets are older veterans of the recent English civil war. People hire Charlie to look for stolen items and return them. He has a knack for observation and, raised an orphan with his younger brother, he knows the streets very well. He also has an eidetic memory for maps and pictures. He’s never dealt with a murder before, and what shocks him most is that the symbol cut into the victim’s body is identical to a key he had clutched in his hand when he and his brother were abandoned, one he still wears on a cord around his neck. More murders follow and the symbol is on every body.
This is a fun and romantic mystery in an unusual setting. It’s the first of a series and this book was published in 2014. There are now two other books in the series, coming out around once a year, along with at least one short that is offered free for Kindle.
The book is good but not perfect. To me it’s disconcerting to have a super-observant, Holmes-like detective centuries before modern policing, and there’s an awful lot of horse riding through the country to chase down a villain who ends up back where they started. That said, Charlie Tuesday is a fun character with ingenuity and grit. The heroine of the book (no names to avoid spoilers) is intelligent and strong-willed. There are quite a few close calls. I’m not sure enough clues were laid to have the identity of the killer make complete sense but it’s less of a puzzle book than a historical thriller.
If you do take the book on and aren’t clear on your English history, you might find it useful to look over the Wikipedia article on Charles I of England to get a better sense of some of the references in the book. It’s the kind of thing British students are taught early but is rarely touched on in history classes in the US.