The Code for Killing opens on a damp miserable day in 18th century Norfolk, where young Dr Adam Bascom is in a foul mood. Fed up with traipsing through the muddy tracks to visit cantankerous wealthy patients, who are reluctant to pay his bills, he is in need of a change and perhaps some excitement. But soon his life is taken over by murder investigations and constant travel from his small north Norfolk village to Norwich and also to London.
In An Unlamented Death, William Savage’s previous novel about Dr Bascom, Adam discovered a body in a country churchyard, but this time his help is sought by Mr Wicken, an important government official, who sends a King’s Messenger asking him to treat an injured man in Norwich, who has been attacked in suspicious circumstances. Adam becomes embroiled in investigating the young man’s predicament, partly because he is in a catatonic state but also because he had been employed in secret work for the country. The murder of a King’s Messenger in the same city adds urgency to his task. There are further complications when Adam has to testify at the inquest of an unpopular miller who also appears to have been murdered.
The investigations do not prevent us from becoming well acquainted with Adam and his friends and family. Unlike his pleasure seeking friend, the apothecary, Peter Lassimer, Adam is awkward and tactless when engaging with women, even though he appreciates their charms. His encounters with an actress, a whore and his mother’s educated lady companion are all rich in wit and humour. Other interesting characters such as the two appropriately named seamen Peg and Dobbin add to the richness of the narrative.
All this against the background of Georgian society and historical details of worries about French privateers and food shortages make this novel a fascinating visit into the past, combined with an intriguing mystery solved by an empathetic hero, aided by several lively women.