KILLING BEAUTIES is a well-written semi-interesting piece of historical fiction. Langman sets his novel during the Protectorate of the 1650s. The novel focuses on the extremely dangerous world of the Royalist spies.
Having read the book from cover to cover, I find the premise a little implausible. Without spilling too much of the plot, I find it hard to believe that Cromwell's foremost spy catcher John Thurloe would fall for a sister of a leading Royal Royalist Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon writer of a History of the rebellion.
The book seems to be well researched and has a degree of erudition you would expect from a PhD holder whose subject was Francis Bacon.
In terms of historiography Langman's book joins a growing army of such like publications that promote the Royalist cause against the nasty parliamentarians who cut the head off a beloved king. Langman was influenced by his partner Dr Nadine Ackerman's research for her book invisible agents
As Langman explains "I was introduced to Susan and Diana by my partner, Dr Nadine Akkerman, as she was researching her (bloody splendid) book Invisible Agents: Women and espionage in seventeenth-century Britain. She was not that far into the task before it seemed as if Nadine was operating more as Spycatcher than a researcher, and it was only in the face of her relentless work that the she-intelligencers slowly gave up their secrets. As Nadine put ever more flesh on their archival bones, we began to realise that they were the perfect protagonists to star in a work of historical fiction. What was so promising about this pair was partially the fact that they were operating in the same circles at the same time, and yet don’t appear to have met, and partially the fact that their lack of excitement about the idea of being caught led to their tracks being pretty well covered over.
While I found Langman's book, a moderately interesting read, I found his method even more fascinating. As he explains in this interview"There are two approaches available to the historical novelist: to fictionalise history or historical fiction. A fictionalised history is one in which a story is woven around actual events, while historicised fiction is one in which historical detail is inserted into a story. I would say I chose the former, but it would be more accurate to say that the former chose me.
Archives do not tell us everything. There are always gaps. Sometimes you can fill them in by using other sources (though this needs to be approached with care), but sometimes they simply insist on remaining as gaps. The primary site of divergence between the historian and the novelist is in the way they approach these gaps: for the former, they are traps; the latter, portals. I could make the gaps work with me rather than against me.”
To conclude, I have read better historical fiction books, and I have read worse. My overriding feeling is that a PhD holder of Langman's calibre should be writing academic books, not historical fiction. Maybe his next book will prove me wrong.
The book is published by Unbound it was the first crowdfunding publisher founded in 2011. A list of people who pledged support for the book to be published is in the back and front of the book. A brave new world