Suspicion and religion are intertwined in London in 1678, a little over a decade after the Great Fire ravaged the city. Nathaniel Thompson, a newlywed political writer, has found his nemesis: Titus Oates. Titus Oates is an instigator, a man who whips up public fear over a Popish Plot. King Charles II has no direct heir, and when he dies, the crown will go to his Catholic brother. Titus places himself in the middle of it all, the witness to Jesuit machinations against the King, and by extension, against the struggling London populace. Nathaniel knows that Titus Oates lies, bribes, and threatens his way into the good graces of the aristocracy and the courtroom. Nathaniel finds he cannot stand idly by as strangers, acquaintances, and friends are held in the horrific confines of Newgate prison, and sometimes, brought to the gallows.
The rantings of a blowhard are not century-specific, and Braithwaite shows that regardless of the specifics, whipping up the public is not without consequence. Some find it morally abhorrent when political scheming leads to real-world results, while others, like Titus Oates—a real man who lived this very real plot—seem to sleep well at night as long as he remains popular. One quote in particular felt very timeless, describing the character of Titus Oates: “Where I’ve previously held sheer meanness of spirit to be his defining feature, it comes to me that perhaps his greatest weapon is his audacity.”
While this book could be identified as suspense, to this reader it felt more like horror, given how often I felt I’d just read a headline based on this type of man. The Road to Newgate is a good read, modern in the sense that these characters are so recognizable, while deeply rooted in documented history.
Find original review publication at the Historical Novel Review.
You can find Kate Braithwate on her website.
The purpose of these reviews can be found on this earlier blog post.