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The Bloodless Boy

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“The Bloodless Boy” is an exceedingly well-researched historical mystery perfect for anyone interested in late 17th century London.  Based on the science of the time, it tells the story of the murder of small boys and the removal of their blood. English author Robert J. Lloyd takes great pains to “build the world” of the Restoration for readers and is particularly successful in portraying, not only how base and elemental it was, but also how thirsty for discovery and new knowledge. 

The writing is sometimes wonderful.  As just one example, consider this scene-setting description: “Clocks stood about everywhere, most of them disembowelled, their innards spilt as if Hooke anatomised [dissected] the grand complication of time itself.”

But sometimes, Mr. Lloyd sacrifices clarity and readability in his pursuit of authenticity.  He employs a ton of archaic words and terms, requiring (for me, at least) many trips to the dictionary or Wikipedia. I also found some of the prose and dialogue so formal and stilted that, even with a second read, I had trouble gleaning its meaning. 

Nevertheless, I was otherwise very impressed with the high quality of Mr. Lloyd’s work. I would encourage anyone interested in London circa 1677, and/or the Enlightenment in England, to give "The Bloodless Boy" a try.

My thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an electronic ARC. The foregoing is my independent opinion.
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I wanted to like this--the premise was interesting. But the writing and plotting are messy, with the writing changing in tone frequently in unnecessary and sometimes confusing ways, and the narrative being a bot long, often dull, and sometimes convoluted. The romance element read like it had been added in after the rest of the book was finished--it appeared here and there but never really got anywhere, and then popped up at the end as if it had been there all along. It was a slog to get through.
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It's London 1678 and a young boy's body has washed up on the Fleet River drained completely of blood. Robert Hooke, the Curator of Experiments of the Royal Society, and his assistant, Harry Hunt, are enlisted to solve the crime, which becomes steeped in Catholic plots and other political machinations of the era. 

I thought this was a pleasant historical mystery that definitely leans more into the traditional mystery rather than the modern tendency towards thrillers. Also, the amount of research that Robert J. Lloyd has done for this book is astounding. Having recently finished a book about the history of transplant surgeries, I really appreciated all the nods and details related to 17th century blood transfusions and the state of science and experiments in this era. There is a lot of name dropping though, so if you're not familiar with this period of history having a Google tab open might be beneficial. 

Overall, I would recommend this to fans of books similar to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall as well as classic mysteries.
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It’s not unusual for historical figures to appear on the pages of mysteries and such is the case with The Bloodless Boy. Robert Hooke, a noteworthy natural philosopher, and his former assistant Harry Hunt, the hero of The Harry Hunt Adventures, were well-known figures in post-Cromwellian London. On a snowy New Year’s Day in January of 1678, Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey sends a message to Robert Hooke, asking him to go to the bridge at Holborn, which spans the Fleet River. Interestingly, Hooke is the architect of the ambitious rebuild of the Holborn Bridge and the Fleet Canal. Hooke’s new assistant Tom tells Harry that Hooke wants him to go to the bridge. When Harry arrives, he is struck by Sir Edmund’s distinctive appearance, dressed from head to toe in black, resembling a large inquisitive raven.

Harry’s mentor is always urging him to be cooler and more dispassionate but Harry is revulsed by what he sees. 

A dead boy, naked, possibly as young as two years, at most as old as three, lay in the mud on his side. Back curved, head bowed to his chin, arms and legs folded to his body.


The falling snow softened his outline, making it look as if he had come up from the ground. Digested, then expelled.

How did the boy die? Harry turns the body over and he and Hooke discuss the manner of death. Harry and Hooke agree that it’s easily explicable. Well, perhaps if you’re a scientist. The little body has puncture marks, each with written ink by it and there was also a letter left behind which Sir Edmund pockets.

‘Going into the skin,’ Hooke continued, ‘and on, deeper, into the iliac arteries, these holes shows the insertion of hollow tubes. They have a similar diameter to the shaft of a goose-feather. There are four such apertures, used to drain him of his blood.’

The question is why. Hooke and Harry think the writing on the body may hold some clues but as scientists, they do not jump to conclusions. Sir Edmund has a culprit in mind.

‘It is papistry, mark my words.’


Hooke looked at him mildly. ‘You steer us where we do not necessarily wish to go. Nothing here shows Catholicism.’

Hooke is perturbed by the state of the body but he’s also sophisticated in the ways of London gossip and realizes the importance of keeping the story under wraps. It’s a reminder that the current tension between scientific facts versus spin is not a recent phenomenon. Controlling information is a longstanding tactic of those in power. London is somewhat of a power-keg: the effects of the Great Fire of London, simply known as the Great Conflagration, are still being felt twelve years later. There are persistent and not untoward “rumors of Catholic plots, devil-boys, and sinister foreign assassins.” Harry Hunt lives in perilous times. Oliver Cromwell’s regime is over and the monarchy has been restored, but the fissures that divided the country have not disappeared, they’ve merely been papered over. There is no common ground between the Catholics and Protestants. Superstition is rife.

How does The Bloodless Boy conform with the traditional framework of a whodunnit? First, there’s a dead body, with evidence that the cause of death was not natural. There are questions that demand satisfaction: who wants the murder covered up? Who wants to pin the blame on someone else? Lastly, who stands to profit from the crime?

Harry Hunt is an independent hero, someone who displays feeling and emotion. When he sees the pitiful dead body of the young boy, he is greatly affected by a life cut short. As soon as he’s alone, he vomits. A few days later, he has terrible nightmares of drowning, struggling under the surface of the turbulent water. 

The bloodless boy had some connection with the Wars fought more than a quarter of a century ago, before Harry had been born. At least, a cipher used then had resurfaced, as if pushed up through the snow with the body.


Who else knew of the Red Cipher? He should have quizzed Colonel Fields further. Did Sir Edmund have the keyword? Then why pass the letter left with the boy to Mr. Hooke? Sir Edmund suspected a Catholic involvement. Did he know more, or was it merely his dislike of popery that directed his thoughts?


Schooled by Robert Hooke to accept just the evidence of his senses, to examine first causes without trusting only the word of others, and to make trials for others to repeat and share, Harry’s intuition there was something more, something deeper to distrust about the Justice, stilled troubled him.

Harry’s intuition leads him to investigate independently. What he discovers alarms him, particularly when he finds out that Sir Edmund had been less than honest with him and Robert Hooke. Ultimately, Hooke and Hunt agree to investigate the murder of the boy after instruction from the King. The last thing King Charles II needs is an unsolved murder that has a connection to wars fought more than a quarter of a century ago. The Bloodless Boy juxtaposes a raw and gritty murder against the cautious, methodical scientific methods of the time. The murder investigation is intertwined with the political struggles of a turbulent age: it’s a fascinating read.
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This book should not have been so boring. It has a fascinating premise. A young boy is found dead and drained of blood. Robert Hooke, historically significant scientist known for being the first person to visual a micro-organism with a microscope, is on the case with a cast of other historic personalities. Unfortunately, this book was a terrible drag. It seemed to go on forever. I considered skipping to the last couple of chapters, but decided to skim all of the superfluous detail instead. 
Initially, the detail set the stage and established atmosphere. Then it became redundant. It seemed nothing was happening that contributed to the story in terms of building suspense or developing the plot. The reader finds out in the first few pages how the dead boy was drained of blood. This could have been used as part of the plot to build interest from the beginning. However, the scientists on the case had a good idea how it was done. Maybe that was supposed to realistically represent their body of knowledge (pun intended). All that remained for the next 400+ pages was solving the mystery. 
It was an interesting mystery that could have been far more suspenseful and exciting. I enjoyed all of the science tidbits, but they were not enough to keep the rest of the tedious story afloat. Whenever part of the mystery was revealed, I was hopeful that the book would get better; but, alas, it did not. 
There is a good story and interesting mystery buried amidst all of this filler. This book would benefit greatly from a rewrite. 
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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The Bloodless Boy by Robert J. Lloyd is a historical fiction mystery taking place in London, 1678, the first in the Harry Hunt Adventures series. Mr. Lloyd is an English author; this is his first novel.

A dead young boy is found on the Fleet Rive, London 1678. The boy is drained of blood, and furthermore, has numbers inscribed on his skin.

Justice of Peace for Westminster, Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey blames chiefly the Catholics and enlists famous polymath Robert Hooke to help. Together with his assistant, Harry Hunt, Hooke attempts to solve the puzzle, all the while a plot against King Charles II is at hand.

Certainly, the first thingI noticed about The Bloodless Boy by Robert J. Lloyd was the language. The author wrote in the way English was spoken at the time, by intelligent people. This is one of those books written with intelligence, who don’t underestimate the reader. And I’m not ashamed to say I had to look words up. Thank goodness to e-Readers.

Mr. Lloyd evokes the atmosphere and spirit of Restoration London with the shadows of the Civil Wars still looming large. Harry Hunt, the protagonist and Hooke’s assistant, is too young to remember them but Hooke isn’t. The wars play a silent, but significant part in the setting of the novel as the conflicts’ physical, cultural, economic, and psychological burdens are always present.

The characters are vivid and flushed out, interesting, as well as intelligent. While I’ve heard of several of the historical figures (Hooke, King Charles II, and of course Isaac Newton), others, like Lord Shaftesbury were new to me.

Surprisingly with all the great characters and writing, the plot is story-driven. While the main characters immediately grabbed my attention, it was quickly abandoned to introduce new characters, detailed scientific methods, and facts which did not add to the story.

This is an ambitious story, however. It encompasses a mystery, scientific advances, politics, history, as well as historical figures which come to life. As many other historical fiction books, I enjoyed not only the narrative, but learning new facts as well.
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A young boy was murdered who was only three years old and left bloodless. This story takes place in 1678 London which requires a fine author to intertwine the times and murder without deviating from history and detective parameters.

Harry Hunt is the main character whose title apparently is Observer of the Royal Society of London for the improving of of natural knowledge.  His boss is Robert Hooke (an actual historical figure) who was one of the first to visualize microorganisms. The setting is twelve years after the Great Fire when a brilliant mind like Hooke can perform architectural surveys.  

Hunt learns that another young boy was murdered in the same manner.  There is a possible connection to a Catholic plot to kill the king and discover if there is a link to the suicide of Henry Oldenburg, Secretary to the Royal Society.

So long ago, but the politics seem current as it meshes itself into a fascinating mystery. This original writing demands a special author who can grasp history and place a mystery in its proper perspective.

My gratitude to NetGalley and Melville House Publishing for this pre-published book.  All opinions expressed are mine.
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A historical fiction mystery set in 17th century London.

You can tell the author spent a lot of time on research. Liked some characters and hated the ones you're suppose to hate. The general plot is good but I found the writing choppy which I don't care for. But that's just me. It's received a lot of good reviews.
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I didn't receive this book until after it was already published. A historical crime fiction set in restoration London, after the fall of Oliver Cromwell.

When the body of a young boy drained of his blood is discovered on the snowy bank of the Fleet River, Robert Hooke, the Curator of Experiments at the just-formed Royal Society for Improving Natural Knowledge, and his assistant Harry Hunt, are called in to explain such a ghastly finding—and whether it's part of a plot against the king. They soon learn it is not the first bloodless boy to have been discovered.
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I loved this historical fiction debut set in 17th century London.  Fascinating characters, both historically real and imaginary, an ingenious plot, and the setting (which comes to life) makes this mystery one of my favorite of the year.
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London, 1678. A very young boy is found dead. Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, the powerful Justice of Peace for Westminster, believes that Hooke’s knowledge of blood and vacua will greatly assist in finding child’s murderer.

Robert Hooke is the Curator of Experiments of the Royal Society and architect of the new London, after the Fire. With his assistant Harry Hunt they conduct different experiments including blood transfusion. And that’s what attracted me to this story and learning about those two historical figures and their work.

However, the story is plot-driven and that it always my struggle to connect with any such story. I like character-driven stories, where the main character grasps my attention from the first pages, which doesn’t happen here. It is normal for plot-driven stories to start with some action as finding a dead body in this story. However, as soon as a chapter started about Robert Hooke, I thought we would learn something about him, but it jumps to introducing other people and facts.

At times, there are a lot of names and facts presented without any depth to it. Other times, the methodical descriptions are too detailed. There are times when a big chunk of story is driven by dialogue, which at least in this case is done with the right purpose; the dialogue moves the story forward.

The story is ambitious in its scope bringing scientific advances and politics, a lot of names and facts, but it feels as it’s out of balance with engagement.

If you like plot-driven stories, I recommend reading other reviews.
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When the first blood-drained corpse showed up and conveniently the people who have the technology to preserve it in a vacuum are present, I admit I rolled my eyes a bit. That quickly changed as I got deeply drawn into this crazy story of science and political terrorism. The well-rounded characters and descriptions of 17th-century London really made the mystery come to life and even thought the ending is a bit disappointing, historical mystery fans will enjoy this.
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This book reminded me of Steve Berry's books: historical thrillers with heavy reliance on research and factual timelines. In addition to being well written and researched, the book read like a top ten thriller by the best authors of today. Lloyd gave just enough flavor in the dialogue to being to mind the quaintness of Old English without bogging us down in too much vernacular. The pacing is brisk and the young hero ernest and likeable. All around excellent work.
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2.5 stars

**This book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.**

A detailed, methodical historical thriller for fans who wanted more ‘whodunnit’ in their Hilary Mantel.

There’s a lot to like in this book, particularly for those who love highly-researched historical fiction. Lloyd takes great care with his depiction of late-17th-century life, and he pays particular attention to the scientific thought and advances of that time period, which is fascinating. The post-civil-war politics of 17th century England are also integral to the plot, which will delight readers of more conventional historical fiction. The attention to details—names, places, and inventions of the time period—is meticulous.

As a thriller, however, the book is lackluster. The premise—young boys found drained completely of their blood—is great. However, the big mystery (how exactly the blood was drained) is solved almost immediately, so from there on it’s just a matter of figuring out who killed the boys and why, which is somewhat more usual of a puzzle. There are still plenty of twists and turns, but few that a reader can track or attempt to anticipate, which creates a much more passive experience than thrillers usually evoke; even moments of danger feel rather distant.

That lack of urgency is in part because our hero, Harry, is the biggest disappointment of the book. The Observator of the Royal Society, Harry is supposed to be the precursor to a modern crime-scene investigator, someone who can piece together the evidence to understand not only what happened but why and how. The problem is, Harry has no real personality. He has no real ambition, no real personal history, no real vices or foils, no real virtues. He’s quiet, he’s hardworking, he’s curious… but mainly he’s just kind of there. Harry is like an obliging doll for the author to move through his detailed scale model of 1678’s London, but he is in no way a compelling character, and as a reader I never feel anxiety or worry on his behalf. He’s just tough to care about.

In sum, this is an ambitious historical novel about the science and politics of late-18th-century London, burdened by a bland main character and a rather slow and stumbling mystery plot. The set pieces and side characters are wonderful, but the story itself does not compel.
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