Monday, 13 December 2021

A Nest of Vipers by Catherine Johnson

Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

I grew up loving the novels of Leon Garfield – with a special fondness for Smith. Catherine Johnson’s A Nest of Vipers plunges the reader into the same world of 18th Century London – but populated this time with a rich cast of characters reflecting the diversity that most of us are only now learning was the reality in London at that time.

Cato is a member of a gang of con artists who live at the Nest of Vipers (‘the best inn in London’), making a living from tricking wealthy fools of their money. They are led by Mother Hopkins, who has taken them all under her wing and given them a home. But now she’s getting older and she dreams of one last con – one so big they will be able to escape London, buy a house in the country and live out their days in peace.

But things have got out of hand. Cato has been caught – his gang, who he thought of as family – apparently abandoning him to the hangman’s noose. All that is left for him now is to tell his story to the Ordinary of Newgate – the prison chaplain whose job it was to record the last words of condemned prisoners and then sell them to an eager public, like the true-crime podcasts of their day.

Full of humour, colour and rich historical detail. We visit the Frost Fair on a frozen River Thames and learn about the sedan chairs that were the antecedents of modern taxis. We also come face to face with the uncomfortable true that there were house slaves bought and sold in the middle of London itself, and made to wear silver collars as a badge of ownership.

A book to delight any young history buffs out there.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Freedom by Catherine Johnson; Smith by Leon Garfield; Black Hearts Over Battersea by Joan Aitkin; Black and British: a short essential history, by David Olusoga

Avoid If You Dislike:
Heroes from the wrong side of the law

Perfect Accompaniment: Hot pie with gravy.

Middle Reader, Historical

Buy This Book Here:

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