Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass – Book review

I couldn’t put this book down. A historical thriller set in 1794 featuring Laurence Jago, a reluctant spy addicted to  Black Drop, trying to survive in London on the edge of violence.

I received a free review copy from Serpent’s Tail/Viper/Profile in exchange for my honest, unedited feedback.

Publication Date: 14 October 21

Publisher Serpent’s Tail/Viper/Profile Books

Genre: Historical Fiction.

In 1794, Laurence Jago is an ambitious clerk at the Foreign Office but has a secret- well a few secrets- which could lead to him being tried for treason. He becomes a suspect when a highly sensitive letter is leaked to the press which could cause a major blow to the British Army’s war effort When Laurence discovers the body of another clerk, the blame is conveniently shifted but he knows the clerk is innocent. Can Jago find the true culprit without incriminating himself or falling into addiction?

I couldn’t put this book down and found myself hooked into reading late into the night with each new revelation and twist of which there are many!

We know from the start that this is the written confession of Laurence Jago, in 1794, who has succeeded in keeping his spying and his French ancestry a secret from the Foreign Office. The confession adds an extra layer of peril and tension to the story as Jago’s fate is difficult to predict through the course of the book.

Jago is a flawed character, impulsive and rushing headlong into danger, opens his mouth when he shouldn’t and is full of repressed emotions which he tries to ease with the help of Laudanum.  He is not the usual slick, sophisticated spy but is more human, sympathetic and all too realistic. His slow descent into addiction was realistically described.

The author seamlessly blends historical and fictional characters with their own agenda confounding poor Jago. Philpott and Theodore Jay provide humour and enhance this potentially dark story, I was fascinated by the author’s note at the end of the book about Lord Grenville and his networks of spies but also how some of the stranger events in the book were based on true events.

The writing clearly evocates the atmosphere of 1794 London and I could almost feel the grime and filth of the streets of London. The descriptions bring to life the differences between the offices of Downing Street and the seediness of the back streets of London and a rural, pre-industrial England. I haven’t read much fiction based in this time so the French revolution’s impact on England, the signing of a treaty between Britain and the new USA and the Anglo-French war felt fresh and new, Unfortunately, the xenophobia and prejudice sound all too familiar.1794, was a time when far too few people were allowed to vote and the political struggle to try and change this form another important strand in the book and neatly dovetails into the main plot.

Content warning

Hanging, references to suicide and addiction.

Perfect for fans

Who like spy thrillers or historical crime in a historical setting with plenty of twists and turns. This reminds me of some of the earlier books in the Shardlake Series by C.J Sansome.


Five stars- I loved this book and I would happily read more books by this author particularly if they are about Lord Grenville’s spies and his spy network.

3 thoughts on “Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass – Book review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s