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As the seventeenth century opens, a band of venturers forms the Honourable Company of Merchants trading from England to the East Indies. In France, the siege of La Rochelle ends with the massacre of thirty thousand men, women and children. Almost two centuries later, in 1788, John Lempriere published his classical dictionary. This much is fact. Lawrence Norfolk tells us how the first two events led, inescapably, to the third. This amazing tale encompasses the Great Voyages of Discovery and multinational financial conspiracies, and leads a motley cast of scholars and eccentrics, drunk aristocrats and whores, assassins and octogenarian pirates through two centuries and three continents to the brink of French Revolution. John Lempriere reluctantly enters this world as an introverted scholar, obsessed by the myths of antiquity. At the end of this astonishing story he understands that it takes far more than learning to lay the ghosts of the past to rest.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780749398194
ISBN-10: 0749398191
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 28mm)
Pages: 656
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 3-Jan-1998
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » In 1600 the first ships of the newly formed East India Company set sail from England. In France, a few years later, the Huguenots of La Rochelle were crushed at the end of an epic siege. And towards the end of the next century a scholarly youth, John Lempriere, set forth from Jersey on the journey which would see the publication of his acclaimed Classical Dictionary in 1788. Around these historical facts Lawrence Norfolk has woven an intriguing web of conspiracy, revenge and murder which reaches across the centuries. It is a rich and assured first novel, confident in its structure, lush in its prose, with a central mystery which will tease and intrigue readers as they attempt to unravel it through this massive and vivid portrait of life at the end of the 18th century. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » A masterful debut from Londoner Norfolk that delves into 18th-century commerce by way of classical mythology, suggesting grim secrets behind the spectacular success of the East India Company - secrets that have root in the mass suicide of Huguenots under siege in the French port city of Rochelle more that a century earlier. Deftly merging history, classical allusions, and fabulous fantasy, in a style that merits comparison to Dickens as well as Gilbert & Sullivan, Norfolk conjures up an imaginary life of John Lempriere, actual author of a popular precursor to Bullfinch's Mythology. As an awkward young man on the isle of Jersey, John witnesses his father's violent death when assaulted by a pack of savage hounds owned by neighbor Viscount Casterleigh, whose daughter John loves with paralyzing passion. Then, while settling his father's estate in London, he learns of a mysterious contract between a distant Huguenot ancestor and an English earl, and his interest in it grows as he makes contact with others who fill in pieces of the puzzle. Meanwhile, in caverns deep beneath the city, a cabbala plots to lure young Lempriere into their midst using member Casterleigh's daughter as bait; an assassin from the Indian Nawab' palace stalks the two; a ship full of ancient mariners, pirates all, plies its way to the London docks in pursuit of a cargo of sulphur from which to make gunpowder; and unrest among city laborers and the lower classes grows, incited by the firebrand Farina. Lempriere comes face-to-face with the cabbala in their lair, where he finds their leader to he his own distant ancestor and learns why he was encouraged to write his dictionary, triggering a larger conflagration as the assassin, pirates, and the mob make their moves while the evil Company is destroyed, literally, by an avenging angel. Wildly and wonderfully improbable, reveling in the countless allusions that feed its dark vision: a delight for classicists, historians, and any reader eager to be overwhelmed by a story. An exceptional achievement. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Lawrence Norfolk

Lawrence Norfolk was born in London in 1963. He read English at King's College, London, graduating in 1986. He began teaching, studied for a Ph.D., and worked as a freelance writer on a number of reference books, contributing articles and reviews to magazines and journals including the Times Literary Supplement. He has written three novels; Lempriere's Dictionary, Pope's Rhinoceros and In the Shape of a Boar.

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