An engaging and enjoyable historical thriller. In London in 1593 there is considerable discontent at the influx of Dutch (Protestant) refugees fleeing Spanish (Catholic) armies and likely death. The refugees are a disturbing element in the city, they are a focus for discontent and a series of gunpowder bombings occur that are clearly targeted at the refugees. One of the bombings kills the wife of intelligence agent John Shakespeare, however he is directed away from investigating the bombings to investigate an equally potent but much subtler threat to the peace of Elizabeth 1’s kingdom.
A Spanish nobleman appears to have information which would be very important to the English government and Shakespeare is sent to negotiate for it. He continues to investigate the bombings as well and finds that they may have very dangerous connections. The story unwinds very neatly, the elements draw together very smartly to deliver a very strong conclusion.
Rory Clements uses the context for more than set dressing, the political and social circumstances in England and Europe in 1593 when the struggle between Protestant England and Catholic Spain was fierce as Europe started to divide across religious lines that directly threatened existing political structures, is crucial to the story. The plot arises directly and naturally from the conflict and is very cleverly structured to capture a very wide range of the forces at work.
John Shakespeare has been given a problem, a very tight and consuming story problem, a direct conflict between his personal desires and his professional requirements. This is a staple of the genre because it offers tremendous story possibilities, if used as well as Rory Clements does. The difficulty is that the character becomes a function of the plot rather than the plot being driven by the actions of the character. John Shakespeare is a strong enough character that he is not overshadowed by the plot, the anger he feels at his loss and his genuine loyalty to Protestant England provide strong enough motivation to be the driver of the story.
The way that the various strands of the story play out, the hunt for the gunpowder plotters, the Spanish nobleman’s secret and the murder of Christopher Marlowe all are used is very impressive. The supporting cast, with one significant exception is compelling and full of life. The villain of the piece is clever, competent and very committed, he is a genuine opponent for John Shakespeare and this benefits the story greatly. There is one cast member who is a simple plot requirement, they are used to solve some plot requirements and cannot escape to independent life. Rory Clements does his best to disguise the problem but the character is trapped by the plot.
Rory Clements supports the genre requirements with care and force and uses the context to give the story addition and very welcome substance. A really good read.