***Part of the bestselling John Shakespeare series of Tudor spy thrillers from Rory Clements, author of the Sunday Times bestseller Hitler's Secret ***
'Does for Elizabeth's reign what CJ Sansom does for Henry VIII's' Sunday Times
England is close to war. Within days the axe could fall on the neck of Mary Queen of Scots, and Spain is already gathering a battle fleet to avenge her.
Tensions in Elizabeth I's government are at breaking point. At the eye of the storm is John Shakespeare, chief intelligencer in the secret service of Sir Francis Walsingham. When an intercept reveals a plot to assassinate England's 'sea dragon', Francis Drake, Shakespeare is ordered to protect him. With Drake on land fitting out his ships, he is frighteningly vulnerable. If he dies, England will be open to invasion.
In a London rife with rumour, Shakespeare must decide which leads to follow, which to ignore. When a high-born young woman is found mutilated and murdered at an illicit printing house, it is political gunpowder - and he has no option but to investigate.
But why is Shakespeare shadowed at every turn by the brutal Richard Topcliffe, the blood-drenched priest-hunter who claims intimacy with Queen Elizabeth herself? What is Topcliffe's interest in a housemaid, whose baby has been stolen? And where do two fugitive Jesuit priests fit into the puzzle, one happy to die for God, the other to kill for Him?
From the splendour and intrigue of the royal court, to the sleek warships of Her Majesty's Navy and the teeming brothels of Southwark, Shakespeare soon learns that nothing is as it seems . . .
William Shakespeare's older brother, John, plays sleuth in Clements's excellent debut, billed as an Elizabethan thriller. While Queen Elizabeth hesitates to sign the death warrant for Mary, Queen of Scots, her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, fears the Spanish have sent an assassin to England to kill the country's greatest naval hero, Sir Francis Drake. John, Walsingham's "assistant secretary and chief intelligencer," suspects the conspiracy against Drake may be connected with a murder John's investigating the stabbing death of Lady Blanche Howard, whose mutilated corpse was found in a burning London building. His inquiries put him at odds with Richard Topcliffe, a fanatical servant of the queen known for his taste for torture and anti-Catholic zeal, who threatens to expose John's father's secret Catholic sympathies. The characters, action and period detail are all solid, though some may wish the end notes had provided information on the historical John Shakespeare.
Excellent book if you love the Tudor period. A great story and fantastic characters. A book that mixes fiction with historical fact effortlessly. A nice little glossary of terms at the end too
Shakespeare, a remarkable agent!
Having recently read books from S.J Parris, this instalment has extended my interest in the period. I look forward to further reading.