Meepers, homeless and dishevelled, yet an enlightened and mystically knowing amateur archeologist, seeks to understand the destruction of London in the Dark Ages, hoping to predict the capital's future. Emery, a university historian, writes to his absent wife as he prepares for the start of term. He once rejected for publication a 'crackpot' article by Meepers, and is alarmed to find he has appeared at his first lecture. And now he seems to be following Emery everywhere he goes.
In a dazzling mixture of contemporary life and period speech, London is illuminated through the voices of Neanderthal man, Saxon kings, anonymous invaders, the flea that spread the Black Death and the transsexual King Elizabeth.
Jade Green is a solicitor with her own practice, Lost Causes, that she runs from her London flat. She struggles to keep her business afloat, and supplements her income by delivering for the local Chinese takeaway.
Her life changes with a single phonecall. Dr Gilbert has been dismissed from his post teaching the history of science at the University of Wessex. Allegations have been made that he was corrupting the students with Satanism; the professor himself suspects the university to be controlled by a fundamentalist Christian sect.
As Jade delves into this bizarre case, she finds herself drawn into a seventeenth-century manuscript, the original of which has been stolen from the Professor's briefcase at the university. It is ‘The Memorial of Amyntas Boston’, a young woman – raised as a boy – who is awaiting trial for dabbling in the black arts and in alchemy. Taken into service by Mary Sidney, she had fallen in love with her mistress and ultimately found herself betrayed by her.
The two stories intertwine as Jade feels her life – her hidden identities and her secret love – mysteriously resonate with Amyntas's. In this sweeping novel, Maureen Duffy combines the pleasures of detection with the mysteries of fraud, alchemy, early science and witchcraft. By turns passionate and drily witty, this is an immensely compelling tale.
In a South London environment of pub and fairground, home and work, the wounds of 20th century experience are evoked in prose which is both lyrical and precise. Kingy in her garden, ‘loved by the most handsome women in the world’; Maura the barmaid: ‘I prefer the little, thin men'; Glisten the Mayor: ‘It’ll be take-over time and too late’ — these and the many other characters illustrate the basic theme of the novel.