It is perhaps a little reductive to say that some of Andrew Taylor’s finest work has been in the field of historical crime fiction, as the author’s ambitious (and capacious) novels do not fit easily into this category – although The Scent of Death is set during the war of American War of Independence, and evokes that period with quite as much brio as Taylor’s much-acclaimed, award-winning The American Boy did Edgar Allen Poe’s early haunts.
A London clerk, Edward Savill, is dispatched to New York to look into the interests of dispossessed loyalists. Manhattan, still essentially a British colony, is a seething hotbed of crime and sedition, with a variety of revolutionaries of malcontents making it a very dangerous place indeed. The hapless Savill finds himself inveigled into a murder investigation, and is forced to confront the darker corners of corruption and betrayal.
It’s hardly a surprise that the multitalented Taylor has such an impeccable grasp of period and locale (both might be considered a sine qua non in his work); but what is new here is perhaps the sense of a phantasmagoric, heightened reality which makes The Scent of Death such a mesmeric, frequently challenging read, right up to its icy climax. If there is any justice, the book will create quite as much of a kerfuffle as The American Boy.
The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor is published by HarperCollins