Source: Review copy
Publication: 7th November 2019 from Sandstone Press
In 1829, disillusioned young doctor, Mungo Lyon, is recruited by the Crown to investigate a mysterious murder and shipwreck off the coast of Scotland. His adventures lead him on a pursuit across the Scottish countryside, to kidnap and treason, an unwanted trip to the West Indies, an insurrection and love.
A large part of the enjoyment of historical fiction for me is the ability of the writer to conjure in my mind the sights, sounds and smells of a bygone era. Stephen O’Rourke has done that well in The Crown Agent and I loved his descriptions of maritime sailing, of a barge journey through the Forth and Clyde canal and of the hustle and bustle of Glasgow’s Broomielaw as it teemed with different nationalities seeking their new ports of call.
The Crown Agent is a fast paced adventure story, telling the exploits of Dr Mungo Lyon, a surgeon whose work has been discredited following the exposure and trial of Burke and Hare for murder and body snatching.
Called upon to act as an undercover agent for the government, his life is in danger from the very start of his adventures. Lyon stumbles upon a secret society whose tentacles spread throughout polite society and he has no idea who he can trust.
Travelling from Edinburgh through to Greenock, he is challenged and hunted at every turn and must use his wits to get himself out of the hands of the evil criminals who are doing their masters’ bidding in hunting him down.
One man is there beside him, aiding his survival, but even he has a past that makes Mungo think twice about accepting his help. As our brave young doctor takes on a huge challenge, we see him take enormous risks to get to the truth and find those who are behind this devilish secret society, seeking to expose their plans for domination before it is too late.
Every chapter is action packed with impromptu surgeries, violent attacks and villains who are relentless in their desire to bring Mungo down. O’Rourke has a splendid descriptive style that allows the reader to visualise the countryside in all its glory as we follow Mungo’s tense and suspenseful adventures which take him from Campbeltown to Jamaica.
O’Rourke’s writing is vivid and authentic and his dialogue is well suited to this 19th century adventure story in the tradition of Stephenson.
Verdict: An exciting historical adventure story with plenty of action and suspense. I do love a good conspiracy thriller and Stephen O’Rourke has given me one I can really get my teeth into. Recommended.
Stephen O’Rourke is an advocate and a Member of the Institute of Chartered Arbitrators. He formerly wrote a regular column for The Scotsman and has written for The Guardian, Caledonian Mercury and Think Scotland websites. In 2012 he won a short story competition run by The Daily Telegraph, which proved to be the basis for The Crown Agent.