I love historical mysteries and books where we deal with forensic sciences in their early stages. So when I heard that “A Cruel Necessity” by L.C. Tyler would bring me a dead body with an expertly slashed throat underneath a dung heap I had to read the book in one sitting. Naturally.
The author takes us to Essex in June 1657. Oliver Cromwell is the Lord Protector. Just one month ago he had rejected the offer to become King.
One year before, Christiaan Huygens had just made a prototype of the pendulum clock which was a discovery in timekeeping.
Time is of the essence for our main character John Grey. He is a lawyer. He has no clients, no office, and no firm job offers.
After an evening of drinking, John is doing some sort of twirling while admiring the stars above. An approaching horseman asks John is this is some sort of new prayer form. “Or are you completely drunk?” The discussion with this stranger ends with John getting a shilling. He sleeps outside that night afraid to face his mother in his condition.
In the morning John goes home. He passes the village’s dung heap. A pair of feet stick out. They belong to a man, face-down, throat slit from side to side, with no further trauma.
This murder starts John’s race against time to find out who murdered this stranger, who this man was, why he was in the village, and who was the strange horseman he met the night before?
Reading the story we meet various village characters who all run their own race against time. Time to plan the Restoration, time to file appeals, time to get rid of enemies, time to make up your mind about marriage, time to let go of prejudice, and most importantly time to reflect on your friends. When life gets messy only a few stick around. But how well do you know them? Do they stick around for the right reasons?
As John Grey stumbles through his investigation he almost pays with his life. He thinks he has solved the murder only to literally wake up to reality. A reality he could have seen if only he had taken the time.
L.C. Tyler’s John Grey is a flawed main character but he is likable, the book has a good pace, and life in Essex is well described. And the end of the story? You have to read that yourself. Take your time. It is worth every minute.