Book Review: The Road to Newgate by Kate Braithwaite

The Road to NewgateAbout the Book

What price justice?

London 1678.  Titus Oates, an unknown preacher, creates panic with wild stories of a Catholic uprising against Charles II. The murder of a prominent Protestant magistrate appears to confirm that the Popish Plot is real.  Only Nathaniel Thompson, writer and Licenser of the Presses, instinctively doubts Oates’s revelations. Even his young wife, Anne, is not so sure. And neither know that their friend William Smith has personal history with Titus Oates.

When Nathaniel takes a public stand, questioning the plot and Oates’s integrity, the consequences threaten them all.

Format: Paperback, ebook (354 pp.)    Publisher: Crooked Cat Books
Published: 16th July 2018                        Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

I knew the name Titus Oates but very little detail about the events surrounding his rise and fall.  The Road to Newgate has rectified that.  In the book, the author immerses the reader in the turbulent events of 1678, albeit in fictional form but based on the actual events and historical records of the time.  We witness the action through the eyes of Nathaniel Thompson, a writer of news-sheets (a composite of two real life figures), his wife, Anne, and Nat’s friend, William Smith, who finds himself embroiled in Oates’ denunciations.

The author vividly brings to life the London of the period: the cruelty of the bull-baiting pit; the bloodthirsty crowds witnessing the execution of traitors; the hubbub of the coffee houses as patrons peruse the latest news-sheet; the hustle and bustle of the market place.   The squalor of the ‘hell-hole’ that is Newgate Prison is particularly effectively depicted and I chuckled at this description of the House of Commons: ‘The chamber of the House of Commons, viewed from the public gallery above, resembles nothing so much as a stew-pot bubbling and turning: a human soup.  Noise rises up like steam, and little of what is said has any real substance… Bewigged, be-robed, befuddled, bemused, belligerent, and bellicose, all our great men are spread out before us.’  Thank goodness, that’s all changed then….

The atmosphere of the time is one of fear (of Popish plots), intrigue and rumour.  There’s plenty of opportunity for ‘fake news’ to circulate playing on people’s fears and prejudices, particularly against Catholics.   As Nat’s friend, Henry, observes, ‘This is not about the truth. God, it is so little about the truth I am surprised we still have the word in the language’.

However, Nat has the inquisitive instincts of a modern day investigative journalist and is convinced that Titus Oates is not what he seems and that many of those he accuses are innocent.  Nat soon finds that his stance puts him out of step with public opinion and risks making powerful enemies who can jeopardise both his livelihood and the safety of those close to him.

I really liked the tender, supportive relationship between Nat and his wife, Anne even though Nat does confess that, at times, ‘married life is rather trying.’ The way they come together when tragedy visits them is extremely touching.  I also loved Anne’s independent spirit that really comes to the fore later in the book.

The Road to Newgate is a fascinating insight into a turbulent period in English history with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure for those who like their crime.  If you’re interested in learning more about the events depicted in the book, Kate’s website/blog (links below) has some fabulous background information, including images of news-sheets from the period and links to articles she’s written about 17th century coffee shops and the role of women.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Absorbing, well-researched, atmospheric

Try something similar…Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick (read my review here)

Kate BraithwaiteAbout the Author

Kate Braithwaite grew up in Edinburgh and lived in England and Canada before moving to the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. In Canada, she was the recipient of the Marina Nemat Award and the Random House Student Writing Award from Toronto University. Her first novel, Charlatan, a tale of poison and intrigue at the court of the Sun King, was long-listed for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Novel Award.

Kate writes articles and book reviews for a range of blogs and book review websites including the Historical Novel Society. She also maintains a humorous blog about the differences been UK and US English.

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