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 the breaking point. At the center 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. Busy fitting out his ships on land, Drake is frighteningly vulnerable. If he dies, England will be open to invasion.
From the splendor 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.