London Bridge in Plague and Fire
“Like Dr. Frankenstein’s invented creature, the larger-than-life, flesh-and-blood characters of London Bridge in Plague and Fireare made from pieces of the dead past that are forged in the consciousness of an historian—himself a creation of history and of David Madden’s literary magic. Struck by the lightning bolt of the co-joined imaginations of Madden and his reader, the fabricated beings rise up and walk on London Bridge, and they have the audacity to speak for themselves in completely convincing and haunting voices.” —Allen Wier, author of Tehano
For more than two thousand years, Old London Bridge evolved through many fragile wooden forms until it became the first bridge built of stone since the Roman invaders. With over two hundred houses and shops built directly upon the bridge, it was a wonder of the world until it was dismantled in 1832.
In this stunningly original novel, Old London Bridge is as much a living, breathing character as its architect, the priest Peter de Colechurch, who began work on it in 1176, partly to honor Archbishop Thomas à Becket, murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. In 1665, the year of the Great Plague, Peter’s history is unknown, but Daryl Braintree, a young poet living on the bridge, resurrects him through inspired flights of imagination. As Daryl chronicles the history of the bridge and composes poems about it, he reads his work to his witty mistress, who prefers making love.
Among other key characters is Lucien Redd, who as a boy was sexually brutalized by both Puritans and Cavaliers during the English Civil War before being kidnapped off London Bridge onto a merchant ship. Thus traumatized, he aspires to become Lucifer’s most evil disciple. Twenty years later, young Morgan Wood is forced into seafaring service to pay off his father’s debts; and, compelled by obsessive nostalgia for his early life on the bridge, he keeps a journal. Joining Morgan aboard ship, Lucien “befriends” him—to devastating effect. The shops and houses on the bridge survive both the Great Plague and Great Fire, believed to be God’s wrath upon sinful London. Fearing that God may next destroy the bridge and its eight hundred denizens, seven of its merchant leaders revert to a pagan appeasement ritual by selecting one of their virgin daughters for sacrifice. To enact their plan, they hire Lucien, who has returned to the bridge to burn it out of pure meanness. But as Lucien discovers, the chosen victim may be more Lucifer’s favorite than he is.
Like his creation Daryl Braintree, David Madden employs diverse innovative ways to tell this complex, often shocking, but also lyrical story. The author of ten novels—including The Suicide’s Wife, Bijou, and most recently, Abducted by Circumstance and Sharpshooter—Madden has, with London Bridge in Plague and Fire, given us the most ambitious and imaginative work of his distinguished career.