Monday, September 30, 2019

Brotherhood of the Mamluks

Book 1 - Chains of Nobility
Duyal, a teenage nomad living on the vast Russian steppe, is captured during a Mongol invasion and forced on a long, deadly journey into the war-torn Middle East. Purchased by a Kurdish prince in eastern Turkey, his destination is an Islamic citadel, filled with similarly enslaved strangers and one merciless instructor—a man determined to purge the weaklings from his ranks and forge the survivors into Mamluks, Islamic Knights unmatched in wielding sword, arrows, and lance from atop Arabian steeds.

When Duyal becomes entangled in his instructor’s schemes and his mates witness another comrade’s unjust execution, the recruits can take it no longer. Their wrath is unleashed.

Chains of Nobility is the first book in the Brotherhood of the Mamluks trilogy. Set during the 13th century, the book is an immersive dive into the world of military slavery—a Muslim institution largely unheard of in the West, whose ranks ousted the Crusaders and Mongols from the Levant, preserving Islam.


Book 2 - A Lion's Share
A Lion’s Share is the second book in the Brotherhood of the Mamluks trilogy. The story is set in the 13th Century Middle East, during the Seventh Crusade. Told from the Egyptian perspective, it is a rare view of life among the Mamluks—elite Muslim warriors largely unheralded in the West—whose ranks ousted the Crusaders and Mongols from the Levant, preserving Islam.

On the eve of a historic battle, Leander, a disenchanted Crusader, surrenders to Muslim amirs with the intent of joining the revered Bahri Mamluks. His move seems fated. The young Frenchman avoids the mass slaughter suffered by the Christian alliance and earns himself a place with the elite cavalry regiment, serving the Sultan of Egypt. Yet once King Louis IX of France seeks vengeance and sets Cairo as the objective of his campaign, Leander is faced with warfare against his native people as he defends his new home, comrades, and religion.

When the Bahri’s adored sultan dies and Leander becomes tangled in forbidden love with an Egyptian woman, his world unravels further. As the Mamluks seize rule for themselves, a rivalry between opposing regiments turns bloody and the newly-formed Mamluk Sultanate tumbles into chaos, with Leander and his mates scrambling not only for position within the realigned empire, but also for their lives.

Governing by Virtue by Norman Jones

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Governing by Virtue






Managing early modern England was difficult because the state was weak. Although Queen Elizabeth was the supreme ruler, she had little bureaucracy, no standing army, and no police force. This meant that her chief manager, Lord Burghley, had to work with the gentlemen of the magisterial classes in order to keep the peace and defend the realm. He did this successfully by employing the shared value systems of the ruling classes, an improved information system, and gentle coercion.

Using Burghley's archive, Governing by Virtue explores how he ran a state whose employees were venal, who owned their jobs for life, or whose power derived from birth and possession, not allegiance, even during national crises like that of the Spanish Armada.




Ex-IRA man's novel adds to intrigue over Northern Bank heist

From The Guardian
On 19 December 2004, masked raiders took £26.5m in cash from the vaults of Belfast’s Northern Bank, loaded it on to a truck and vanished into the night.

It was one of the most audacious heists in British criminal history, and it left an enduring riddle: did the IRA do it? Police on both sides of the Irish border suspected so, but the group denied any involvement. The robbers have not been caught and the investigation remains open.

Now a former IRA volunteer and convicted bank robber, Ricky O’Rawe, has added to the intrigue by writing a novel with echoes of the raid.

Northern Heist, published September 2018, is a rollicking, colourful account of the preparation and execution of a very similar robbery. The fictional one is committed by a Belfast criminal gang headed by a character named James “Ructions” O’Hare, a professional thief. The IRA is not involved in the robbery but demands a cut of the proceeds, leading to twists and double-crosses.


read more here @ The Guardian

Bishops in the Political Community of England, 1213-1272 by Sophie Therese Ambler

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Bishops in the Political Community of England, 1213-1272






Thirteenth-century England was a special place and time to be a bishop. Like their predecessors, these bishops were key members of the regnal community: anointers of kings, tenants-in-chief, pastors, counsellors, scholars, diplomats, the brothers and friends of kings and barons, and the protectors of the weak. But now circumstance and personality converged to produce an uncommonly dedicated episcopate-dedicated not only to its pastoral mission but also to the defence of the kingdom and the oversight of royal government. This cohort was bound by corporate solidarity and a vigorous culture, and possessed an authority to reform the king, and so influence political events, unknown by the episcopates of other kingdoms.

These bishops were, then, to place themselves at the heart of the dramatic events of this era. Under King John and Henry III-throughout rebellion, civil war, and invasion from France, and the turbulent years of Minority government and Henry's early personal rule-the bishops acted as peacemakers: they supported royal power when it was threatened, for the sake of regnal peace, but also used their unique authority to reform the king when his illegal actions threatened to provoke his barons to rebellion. This changed, however, between 1258 and 1265, when around half of England's bishops set aside their loyalty to the king and joined a group of magnates, led by Simon de Montfort, in England's first revolution, appropriating royal powers in order to establish conciliar rule.

Bishops in the Political Community of England, 1213-1272 examines the interaction between the bishops' actions on the ground and their culture, identity, and political thought. In so doing it reveals how the Montfortian bishops were forced to construct a new philosophy of power in the crucible of political crisis, and thus presents a new ideal-type in the study of politics and political thought: spontaneous ideology.






Sunday, September 29, 2019

Renaissance Mass Murder by Stephen D. Bowd

Renaissance Mass Murder explores the devastating impact of war on the men and women of the Renaissance. In contrast to the picture of balance and harmony usually associated with the Renaissance, it uncovers in forensic detail a world in which sacks of Italian cities and massacres of civilians at the hands of French, German, Spanish, Swiss, and Italian troops were regular occurrences.

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Renaissance Mass Murder






The arguments presented are based on a wealth of evidence - histories and chronicles, poetry and paintings, sculpture and other objects - which together provide a new and startling history of sixteenth-century Italy and a social history of the Italian Wars. It outlines how massacres happened, how princes, soldiers, lawyers, and writers justified and explained such events, and how they were represented in contemporary culture.

On this basis, Renaissance Mass Murder reconstructs the terrifying individual experiences of civilians in the face of war and in doing so offers a story of human tragedy which redresses the balance of the history of the Italian Wars, and of Renaissance warfare, in favour of the civilian and away from the din of battle. This volume also places mass murder in a broader historical context and challenges claims that such violence was unusual or in decline in early modern Europe. Finally, it shows that women often suffered disproportionately from this violence and that immunity for them, as for their children, was often partially developed or poorly respected.

Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire by Boris Chrubasik

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Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire






Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King focuses on ideas of kingship and power in the Seleukid empire, the largest of the successor states of Alexander the Great. Exploring the question of how a man becomes a king, it specifically examines the role of usurpers in this particular kingdom - those who attempted to become king, and who were labelled as rebels by ancient authors after their demise - by placing these individuals in their appropriate historical contexts through careful analysis of the literary, numismatic, and epigraphic material.

By writing about kings and rebels, literary accounts make a clear statement about who had the right to rule and who did not, and the Seleukid kings actively fostered their own images of this right throughout the third and second centuries BCE. However, what emerges from the documentary evidence is a revelatory picture of a political landscape in which kings and those who would be kings were in constant competition to persuade whole cities and armies that they were the only plausible monarch, and of a right to rule that, advanced and refuted on so many sides, simply did not exist. 

Through careful analysis, this volume advances a new political history of the Seleukid empire that is predicated on social power, redefining the role of the king as only one of several players within the social world and offering new approaches to the interpretation of the relationship between these individuals themselves and with the empire they sought to rule. In doing so, it both questions the current consensus on the Seleukid state, arguing instead that despite its many strong rulers the empire was structurally weak, and offers a new approach to writing political history of the ancient world.

John Morton by Stuart Bradley

John Morton (c. 1420–1500) was one of the most important men in the land from the Wars of the Roses to the start of the Tudor dynasty. Yet he has been largely ignored in recent times.

He was a man of great character and influence over politics and the Church. He lived into his eighties, having served three kings as a councillor, Master of the Rolls, Lord Chancellor, bishop, Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal. He was a key figure in the early Tudor state. He had escaped from the Tower of London, lived in exile twice, and was a major adversary of Richard III. He funded the building of Hatfield Palace, the first drainage of the fens, and the central tower of Canterbury Cathedral. The Morton Missal contained the first printed music in England.

As S. B. Chrimes observed, ‘There can be little doubt that Morton was the key figure in Henry VII’s government, nothing approaching an adequate study of his life and role has yet been published.’ In fact, no detailed biography of Morton has been produced since Victorian times.

This book follows John Morton’s career through the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV, and his central role in opposition to Richard III, before his fifteen years as Lord Chancellor to Henry VII, which were crucial to the establishment of the Tudor dynasty.

Dangerous To Know: The Chronicles of Breed: Book One by K.T. Davies

Dangerous To Know: The Chronicles of Breed: Book One by [Davies, K.T.]A mystical weapon. A treacherous legacy. A vengeful demon on the brink of bringing worldwide annihilation.

Fouled-mouthed thief-assassin Breed thrives on a risky life of crime. Sent by a mob boss to pilfer a priceless sapphire, the lizard-human hybrid accidentally releases an ancient imprisoned imp. Strangled within an inch of death, Breed schmoozes out of the evil creature’s deadly claws with a promise to steal a legendary magical Hammer.

As perilous obstacles sidetrack the quest, the snarky burglar ends up magically bonded to a powerful priest-magician who’s determined to fulfill an archaic prophecy. With the vicious demon on the rampage and enemies nipping at their heels, Breed must find the mighty object before they both bite the dust. But once the beast gets its hands on the Hammer, Breed fears it will smash their world to pieces…

Can Breed become the hero named in destiny and stop the entity’s bloody reign?

Dangerous to Know is the first book in the gritty Chronicles of Breed epic fantasy series. If you like endearing anti-heroes, sword and sorcery, and grimdark comedy, then you’ll love K.T. Davies’ gripping tale.
  • Book 2: Tooth and Claw
  • Book 3: Something Wicked

Royal Murder by Marc Alexander

‘And tell sad stories of the death of Kings: How some have deposed, some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed, all murdered . . .’

Royal Murder by [Alexander, Marc]So wrote Shakespeare in Richard II, and in his new book Royal Murder Marc Alexander investigates the sad stories of the victims of royal murders.

Ignoring violent death by battle or political execution, this book is devoted to personal acts of jealousy and revenge which has stained the Crown with blue blood down the ages. The subjects range from those murders one may vaguely remember from schooldays without being aware of their backgrounds of intrigue and mystery, to lesser known scandals such as the secret murder of Count von Konigsmarck, the lover of Princess Sophia of Zell, wife of George the First.

Sheriff and Priest: Wimer the Chaplain by Nicky Moxey

Sheriff and Priest: Wimer the Chaplain by [Moxey, Nicky]Wimer could have become a monk. Instead, his decision to become a Chaplain – to make his way in the wider world of men – has put his soul in mortal danger.

In 12th Century East Anglia, poor Saxon boys stay poor. It takes an exceptional one to win Henry II's friendship, and to rise to the job of High Sheriff of all Norfolk and Suffolk. Falling foul of the stormy relationship between Henry and his Archbishop, he is excommunicated three times, twice by Thomas a'Becket, and once by the Pope.

He also falls in love with the King's Ward, Ida. Before he plucks up the courage to do anything about it, the King takes her as his mistress, and Ida needs Wimer's support to survive that dangerous liaison.

Although he is eventually reinstated in the Church, his problems with his religious superiors, and his love for Ida, will guarantee him a place in Hell, unless he can find land and resources to do something spectacular in the way of penance...




Frontiers for Peace in the Medieval North: The Norwegian-Scottish Frontier c. 1260-1470.

Cover Frontiers for Peace in the Medieval North
Frontiers for Peace in the Medieval North by Ian Peter Grohse deals with the Isles of Orkney between the 1266 Treaty of Perth, in which the Norwegian king ceded the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to Scotland, and 1468, when Orkney was itself pledged to the Scottish crown. Its central thesis is that this period was a time of relative peace that did not witness Orcadians and Norwegians struggling against encroaching Scots.

The book begins by arguing that the Norwegian and Scottish kings promoted mobility between Orkney and mainland Scotland. According to Ian Peter Grohse, they saw Orkney as a convenient site for diplomacy between the two countries. 

The Orcadian earls, administrators, and bishops were employed by the Norwegian kings as agents of this diplomacy. Especially the earls of Orkney played a pivotal role, as they held the earldoms of Orkney and Caithness in tandem, and were therefore vassals of both the Norwegian and Scottish kings. Many of Orkney’s earls and administrators were Scottish in origin, which, Grohse emphasizes, shows that the Norwegian rulers were not led by anti-Scottish sentiments in appointing their frontier officials. Military precautions were taken to defend Orkney, but the Scottish crown never attacked the islands. 

In previous literature, the intrusion of Scottish law was perceived as a real threat to Orkney’s law and custom. Grohse refutes this and shows a continuity of Norwegian law well beyond the period under investigation. The last chapter is an application of the concept of “nativism” to the Orcadians’ outlook on foreigners and immigrants.

read complete review by Daan Keijser @ H-Net Reviews

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Review: Betrayal In Berlin by Steve Vogel

Image result for betrayal in berlin steve vogelSynopsis:The astonishing true story of the Berlin Tunnel, one of the West’s greatest espionage operations of the Cold War—and the dangerous Soviet mole who betrayed it.
Its code name was “Operation Gold,” a wildly audacious CIA plan to construct a clandestine tunnel into East Berlin to tap into critical KGB and Soviet military telecommunication lines. The tunnel, crossing the border between the American and Soviet sectors, would have to be 1,500 feet (the length of the Empire State Building) with state-of-the-art equipment, built and operated literally under the feet of their Cold War adversaries. Success would provide the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service access to a vast treasure of intelligence. Exposure might spark a dangerous confrontation with the Soviets. Yet as the Allies were burrowing into the German soil, a traitor, code-named Agent Diamond by his Soviet handlers, was burrowing into the operation itself. . .
Betrayal in Berlin is Steve Vogel’s heart pounding account of the operation. He vividly recreates post-war Berlin, a scarred, shadowy snake pit with thousands of spies and innumerable cover stories. It is also the most vivid account of George Blake, perhaps the most damaging mole of the Cold War. Drawing upon years of archival research, secret documents, and rare interviews with Blake himself, Vogel has crafted a true-life spy story as thrilling as the novels of John le Carré and Len Deighton.

Anyone who is at all interested in this period of history, especially as it relates to Cold War espionage, should pick this up and read it. Don't be put off by the number of pages, at least 100 of them are dedicated to notes, bibliography and a list of interviewees and dates.

I have a whole three shelves dedicated to espionage and spies, a topic I became heavily interested in when my late teens, when there was still a kind of romance about the whole being a spy thing - there was a lot of effort and imagination put into many of the activities undertaken, and reading back on these, one wonders how any of them got away with what they did - very "boys' own adventures" .

There is a hell of a lot of information being presented: on the agencies, their personnel, political history, and a lot of mundane stuff leading up to the building of the Berlin Tunnel. Even afterwards, the lives of those involved peaked and waned, Blake himself drifts in and out of focus, and it is not until events reach their apogee with Blake's arrest and incarceration, that the political merry-go-round starts up again and we are all carried along in its wake.

Vogel's easy manner of disseminating this plethora of information makes for an thrilling and captivating story - the trouble is, this is not fiction but fact!

Heartily recommended .... "mischief, thou art afoot ..."



Image result for betrayal in berlin steve vogelWho was George Blake: as Vogel himself notes - the ".. decade long adventure he had lived since even before he reached adulthood left him enthralled with deception and espionage ..."  He was a man with a gift for languages and his activities during World War II made him the perfect recruit for MI6 - " .. a gallant past, numerous languages and an ingenious mind ...".  

So why did he turn?  Vogel offers a number of reasons, all very plausible, but it is only conjecture really, as Blake himself puts is down to a dissatisfaction with the governing bodies in the UK and USA.  Blake went from being a religious zealot to Communist adherent in a few years, affected, he said, by the American influence and bombings in Korea, and his disappointment in the church. 

Source: Traitor: British Double Agents 1930-80 By John Frayn Turner


He was never officially approached but volunteered; he was never paid for his double dealings; and yet he was considered the most damaging of the Cold War spies - one whom the Soviets placed great value on and risked a lot to keep him in place.   

Source: The Independent - 7th November 2012

After spying for nearly ten years, it was the defection of another spy that eventually led to his capture, and his capitulation without coersion.  Even his escape was the stuff of legends - Initially it was assumed that he had been ‘sprung’ by Soviet or Eastern Bloc authorities (Special Branch even received a tip off that he was being smuggled out of the country in an instrument case belong to a harpist with the Czechoslovakia State Orchestra). But the evidence suggests arrangements were made by Blake himself, with considerable assistance from sympathetic fellow-inmates in Wormwood Scrubs, where he had been a model prisoner.



more online:
Red Files - Interview with George Blake
Crime Reads - The Daring Plan to Build the Berlin Tunnel
House of Commons (24th October 1966) - the Escape of George Blake
History of Spies - George Blake
Declassified Govt Docs - George Blake


further reading:
The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake by Roger Hermiston
No Other Choice: An Autobiography by George Blake
The Springing of George Blake by Sean Bourke
George Blake: Double Agent by EH Cookridge
Traitor: British Double Agents 1930-80 by John Frayn Turner 
Espionage, Security, and Intelligence in Britain, 1945-1970 edited by Richard James Aldrich 
The Springing of George Blake by Sean Bourke

Friday, September 27, 2019

Love, Madness, and Scandal by Johanna Luthman

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Love, Madness, and Scandal






The high society of Stuart England found Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck (1602-1645) an exasperating woman. She lived at a time when women were expected to be obedient, silent, and chaste, but Frances displayed none of these qualities. Her determination to ignore convention contributed in no small measure to a life of high drama, one which encompassed kidnappings, secret rendezvous, an illegitimate child, accusations of black magic, imprisonments, disappearances, and exile, not to mention court appearances, high-speed chases, a jail-break, deadly disease, royal fury, and - by turns - religious condemnation and conversion.

As a child, Frances became a political pawn at the court of King James I. Her wealthy parents, themselves trapped in a disastrous marriage, fought tooth and nail over whom Frances should marry, pulling both king and court into their extended battles. When Frances was fifteen, her father forced her to marry John Villiers, the elder brother of the royal favourite, the Duke of Buckingham. But as her husband succumbed to mental illness, Frances fell for another man, and soon found herself pregnant with her lover's child.

The Viscountess paid a heavy price for her illicit love. Her outraged in-laws used their influence to bring her down. But bravely defying both social and religious convention, Frances refused to bow to the combined authority of her family, her church, or her king, and fought stubbornly to defend her honour, as well as the position of her illegitimate son.

On one level a thrilling tale of love and sex, kidnapping and elopement, the life of Frances Coke Villiers is also the story of an exceptional woman, whose personal experiences intertwined with the court politics and religious disputes of a tumultuous and crucially formative period in English history.

The Original Tale of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

The String of Pearls: The Original Tale of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by [Prest, Thomas Preskett]The String of Pearls: The Original Tale of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Thomas Preskett Prest

The myth of Sweeny Todd has long been speculated to come from a true story and this novel, written at the height of the legend, is perhaps as close to the truth as it is possible to get.   The original Sweeny Todd – A String of Pearls  - is a classic from 1846 that is set in the dark underbelly of London. Written as a series of Penny Dreadfuls by Thomas Preskett Press, the series has since been collected into a single novel that will have readers itching to find out the next dark twist.

A String of Pearls follows Sweeny Todd as he descends deeper and deeper into madness. Having murdered Johanna’s suitor, Sweeny sets in motion the events that lead to his downfall. Johanna sets out to track her fiancée down and in that process she will unearth a gruesome truth. Meanwhile Toby, Sweeny’s apprentice, will be driven mad by what he finds. Sweeny Todd’s dark agreement with Mrs Lovett and her sinister pie shop has stunned Victorian and modern audiences alike.

This classic and brilliant novel will take you back through time and show you a past filled with tragedy and beauty as Johanna goes in search of her lost love. Johanna’s loyalty and bravery stand out all the more as she risks everything to find the demon barber’s secret. Todd is a brilliant character – both compelling and horrifying – who has drawn people again and again into his story. As suspicion grows and Todd becomes more manic and terrifying and Mrs Lovett grows more and more desperate, the two will drive each other further into darkness.


The Murder of William of Norwich by E.M Rose

In 1144, the mutilated body of William of Norwich, a young apprentice leatherworker, was found abandoned outside the city's walls. The boy bore disturbing signs of torture, and a story soon spread that it was a ritual murder, performed by Jews in imitation of the Crucifixion as a mockery of Christianity. The outline of William's tale swiftly gained currency far beyond Norwich, and the idea that Jews engaged in ritual murder became firmly rooted in the European imagination.

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The Murder of William of Norwich






E.M Rose's engaging book delves into the story of William's murder and the notorious trial that followed to uncover the origin of the ritual murder accusation—known as the "blood libel"—in western Europe in the Middle Ages. Focusing on the specific historical context-the 12th—century reform of the Church, the position of Jews in England, and the Second Crusade—and suspensefully unraveling the facts of the case, Rose makes a powerful argument for why the Norwich Jews (and particularly one Jewish banker) were accused of killing the youth, and how the malevolent blood libel accusation managed to take hold. She also considers four "copycat" cases, in which Jews were similarly blamed for the death of young Christians, and traces the adaptations of the story over time.

In the centuries after its appearance, the ritual murder accusation provoked instances of torture, death and expulsion of thousands of Jews and the extermination of hundreds of communities. Although no charge of ritual murder has withstood historical scrutiny, the concept of the blood libel is so emotionally charged and deeply rooted in cultural memory that it endures even today. Rose's groundbreaking work, driven by fascinating characters, a gripping narrative, and impressive scholarship, provides clear answers as to why the blood libel emerged when it did and how it was able to gain such widespread acceptance, laying the foundations for enduring anti-Semitic myths that continue to the present.

The Komnene Dynasty: Byzantium's Struggle for Survival 1057-1185 by John Carr

Komnene Dynasty : Byzantium's Struggle for Survival 1057-1185 - John Carr
The 128-year dynasty of the Komneni (1057 to 1185) was the last great epoch of Byzantium, when the empire had to fend off Turkish and Norman foes simultaneously. Starting with the extremely able Alexios I, and unable now to count on help from the West, the Komneni played their strategic cards very well. Though the dynasty ended in cruelty and incompetence under Andronikos I (the Terrible), it fought a valiant rear-guard action in keeping eastern Christendom alive. The Komnene dynasty saw several changes in Byzantine military practice, such as the adoption of heavy cavalry on the western model, the extensive use of foreign mercenaries and the neglect of the navy (both of which were to prove a huge and possibly fatal disadvantage). A chapter is devoted to the famous Varangian Guard, which included many Saxons in exile following the Norman conquest of England. The terrible defeat at Myriokephalon in 1176 sealed the doom of the dynasty, preparing the way for the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusaders.

The Viper of Milan by Marjorie Bowen

The Viper of Milan by [Bowen, Marjorie]1360, Lombardy, Italy. The tyrant Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan ruthlessly employs treachery and murder to maintain his power in a court steeped in intrigue. As his armies overrun Northern Italy, it seems that nothing and no one can stem the tide of his conquests... With the possible exception of one man: the dispossessed Duke of Verona, Mastino della Scala.

Whilst the Duke of Milan displays unbelievable cruelty and black-heartedness, he also has a genius for evil, patience and beauty. Battling him, the Duke of Verona struggles to contain his anger. But will Verona tarnish his morality and turn from honesty in the fight for power?

The Viper of Milan takes us to the colourful and violent world of fourteenth-century Italy where success seems to be doomed and the pendulum of power can swing both ways.

The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286-1707 by Jacqueline Rose

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The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286-1707






Counsel was a fundamental element of the theoretical framework and practical workings of medieval and early modern government. Good rule was to be ensured by governors hearing wise advisers. This process of counsel assumed particular importance in England and Scotland between the 14th and 17th centuries because of the close adherence to ideas of the common good, commonwealth, and community in this period.

Yet this era saw major changes in who gave counsel and how it operated. This volume identifies both patterns and moments of change while also recognising continuities. It examines counsel in the context of Anglo-Scottish warfare and unions, the Reformations, and early colonising ventures, as well as in the contingent circumstances of individual reigns and long-term evolutions in the nature of government.

Depicting counsel as ubiquitous yet archivally elusive, this volume uses government records, pamphlets, plays, poetry, histories, and oaths to establish a new framework for understanding advice. As it shows, a widespread belief in good counsel masked fundamental tensions between accountability and secrecy, inclusive representation and political cohesiveness, and between upholding and restraining sovereign authority.

Mick Herron’s ‘Joe Country’ Is a Brexit-Era Spy Thriller


Mick Herron writes about the broken spies sworn to protect today’s broken England.


So when somebody writes a book that grips and settles me, that makes a reader out of me again, I become quite helpless with gratitude. I feel this way about Mick Herron. Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, in England, and educated at Oxford, Herron writes squeakingly well-plotted spy thrillers. More than that, he composes—at the rate of a pulpist—the kind of efficient, darkly witty, tipped-with-imagery sentences that feel purpose-built to perforate my private daze of illiteracy. More than that, he’s a world-bringer, the creator of a still-growing fictional universe with its own gravity, lingo, and surface tension. He whacks his characters and winnows his cast with real 21st-century anti-sentimentality, but there always seems to be enough life-energy around to generate more stories. A TV series is in the works, and a new novel, Joe Country, was published in June.

At the center of Herron’s mythosphere is a terrible, terrible office: Slough House. Although … can Slough House be at the center of anything? It’s a terminus, permanently dislodged from—at odds with, even—the flow of existence. A grimly nondescript building somewhere in the London borough of Finsbury, a concrescence of London dilapidation and anonymity, Slough House is where you’ll find the “slow horses”—the MI5 operatives deemed too dysfunctional, addicted, high-risk, or failure-prone for anything but the most grinding busywork. J. K. Coe is there, monastically hoodied, sizzling with PTSD, listening to Keith Jarrett in his earbuds and not talking to anyone. Shirley Dander is there, always thinking about the wrap of cocaine in her pocket. (“It wasn’t like Shirley was an habitual user. It was a weekend thing with her, strictly Thursday to Tuesday.”) The manager of Slough House, its twice-as-toxic David Brent, its stained and farting Buddha, is Jackson Lamb. Once a formidable “joe”—Herron-speak for an agent—at Berlin Station, Lamb is now a chain-smoking, whiskey-drinking shambles and a creature of coal-black cynicism. Herron’s slow horses are always being pulled into plots, called upon to exercise their latent joe skills. As rejects, they are the natural enemies of the elite. They can smell a false-flag operation a mile off. No fake news for these genuine losers. In Joe Country, a hunt for the missing son of a deceased slow horse leads to an encounter with the most infernal echelons of the Establishment.

Espionage is a shadow battle; it looks like the psyche. “On a normal day,” muses a spy in Joe Country, “London was bright and busy, full of open spaces and well-lit squares. But it was also trap streets and ghost stations; a spook realm below the real.” In this realm, people change shape; graves open and dead things rise; stories turn inside out. Like John le Carré—with whom he has been much compared—Herron is obsessed with that area of human experience, that area of the human brain, where paranoia overlaps with an essential, feral vigilance. “Since leaving the Park he’d had that uneasy sense of footsteps in synch with his own. There were tricks you could pull—double back to check a shop window, pause to fix a shoelace, halt at a bus stop …” No such thing as coincidence. Ordinary, bovine, walking-down-the-street life is an illusion, a sleep-state. Don’t get caught standing around: bad tradecraft.

Herron has been praised for the wit and velocity of the workplace banter at Slough House—the infighting, and the awful, un-PC things that come out of Jackson Lamb’s mouth: “I’m an ardent feminist, as you know. But haven’t you girls got better things to worry your little heads about?” A little of this, I find, goes a long way. Sections of London Rules in particular seemed to me to be rather clogged with Veep-like repartee. Joe Country corrects the error. The slow horses are drawn out of fast-talking London and into wintry Wales, land of snowy ditches and burning owls. The bastions of privilege are casting their long shadow. And in joe country—the place, the mind-set, where the spies live—there are ironies and inversions, but no jokes.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Lucy Stone by Sally G. McMillen

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Lucy Stone






In the rotunda of the nation's Capital a statue pays homage to three famous nineteenth-century American women suffragists: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. "Historically," the inscription beneath the marble statue notes, "these three stand unique and peerless." In fact, the statue has a glaring omission: Lucy Stone. A pivotal leader in the fight for both abolition and gender equality, her achievements marked the beginning of the women's rights movement and helped to lay the groundwork for the eventual winning of women's suffrage. Yet, today most Americans have never heard of Lucy Stone.

Sally McMillen sets out to address this significant historical oversight in this engaging biography. Exploring her extraordinary life and the role she played in crafting a more just society, McMillen restores Lucy Stone to her rightful place at the center of the nineteenth-century women's rights movement. Raised in a middle-class Massachusetts farm family, Stone became convinced at an early age that education was key to women's independence and selfhood, and went on to attend the Oberlin Collegiate Institute. When she graduated in 1847 as one of the first women in the US to earn a college degree, she was drawn into the public sector as an activist and quickly became one of the most famous orators of her day. Lecturing on anti-slavery and women's rights, she was instrumental in organizing and speaking at several annual national woman's rights conventions throughout the 1850s. She played a critical role in the organization and leadership of the American Equal Rights Association during the Civil War, and, in 1869, cofounded the American Woman Suffrage Association, one of two national women's rights organizations that fought for women's right to vote. Encompassing Stone's marriage to Henry Blackwell and the birth of their daughter Alice, as well as her significant friendships with Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and others, McMillen's biography paints a complete picture of Stone's influential and eminently important life and work.

Self-effacing until the end of her life, Stone did not relish the limelight the way Elizabeth Cady Stanton did, nor did she gain the many followers whom Susan B. Anthony attracted through her extensive travels and years of dedicated work. Yet her contributions to the woman's rights movement were no less significant or revolutionary than those of her more widely lauded peers. In this accessible, readable, and historically-grounded work, Lucy Stone is finally given the standing she deserves.

Murder in Mind by Amelia Pasch

Murder in Mind by [Pasch, Amelia]Florence, 1497. An assassin threatens the life of the city's political leader.

Out of desperation - and hope - the Duke of Lorraine sends for his young widowed cousin and spy, Isabella, to unmask and stop the killer. Will the beautiful and resourceful spy be a victim of entrapment herself however, as she falls for the charms of the enigmatic Vittorio? Is he a potential enemy, or potential husband? How much is Isabella willing to sacrifice to complete her mission?

The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia - Nadine Akkerman

The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart is the first complete edition of the letters of Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662), Electress Palatine of the Rhine and Queen of Bohemia, daughter of King James I of England and Anna of Denmark.

Volume I covers Elizabeth's life as princess and consort in the years between 1603 and 1631. It includes letters exchanged with her brother, Henry Frederick, the courtship letters of Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth's experiences of both marital and court life in Heidelberg, especially her struggle with Germanic culture and her arguments with both her husband and mother-in-law over rights of precedence. From 1619 her letters become increasingly political as she begs her father, the Duke of Buckingham, and others for assistance in the desperate struggle for the Crown of Bohemia. Deposed in 1620, Elizabeth spends her time in exile devising ploys to gain further financial, moral, and military support from statesmen and military leaders such as Sir Dudley Carleton, the 'Mad Halberstadter' Christian of Brunswick, Count Ernest of Mansfeld, King Christian IV of Denmark, and Bethlen Gabor, Prince of Transylvania, behaviour increasingly in defiance of her father's wishes and demands.

Elizabeth's letters evidence her slow transformation from political ingenue to independent stateswoman, a position cemented as her husband fell victim to the war they had precipitated. The diplomatic writing skills she developed in this period were to become her only weapon for securing both the inheritance of her many children and her own position as a key religious, political, and cultural figure in early-modern Europe.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Partisan Diary - Ada Gobetti & Jomarie Alano

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Partisan Diary






Ada Gobetti's Partisan Diary is both diary and memoir. From the German entry into Turin on 10 September 1943 to the liberation of the city on 28 April 1945, Gobetti recorded an almost daily account of events, sentiments, and personalities, in a cryptic English only she could understand. Italian senator and philosopher Benedetto Croce encouraged Ada to convert her notes into a book. Published by Giulio Einaudi editore in 1956, it won the Premio Prato, an annual prize for a work inspired by the Italian Resistance (Resistenza).

From a political and military point of view, the Partisan Diary provides firsthand knowledge of how the partisans in Piedmont fought, what obstacles they encountered, and who joined the struggle against the Nazis and the Fascists. The mountainous terrain and long winters of the Alpine regions (the site of many of their battles) and the ever-present threat of reprisals by German occupiers and their fascist partners exacerbated problems of organization among the various partisan groups. So arduous was their fight, that key military events—Italy's declaration of war on Germany, the fall of Rome, and the Allied landings on D-Day —appear in the diary as remote and almost unrelated incidents. 

Ada Gobetti writes of the heartbreak of mothers who lost their sons or watched them leave on dangerous missions of sabotage, relating it to worries about her own son Paolo. She reflects on the relationship between anti-fascist thought of the 1920s, in particular the ideas of her husband, Piero Gobetti, and the Italian resistance movement (Resistenza) in which she and her son were participating. While the Resistenza represented a culmination of more than twenty years of anti-fascist activity for Ada, it also helped illuminate the exceptional talents, needs, and rights of Italian women, more than one hundred thousand of whom participated.

Edward the Elder and the Making of England by Harriet Harvey Wood

Edward the Elder and the Making of England by [Harvey Wood, Harriet]
Three men have been credited with being the first king of England – Alfred the Great, his son Edward the Elder and Edward’s son and Alfred’s grandson, Athelstan. It is an undoubted fact that, were it not for the work of Alfred, there might never have been the possibility of an English kingdom in the sense that we now understand it.

It is also true that Athelstan was the first explicitly to rule over an English kingdom in roughly its present shape and extent. What, then, was the contribution of Edward to the evolution of what his son was to inherit? As a child, he saw his father at the lowest point of his fortunes; as a boy, he grew up under the constant threat of further Danish invasion.

Edward came to adulthood in the knowledge that it was his responsibility to safeguard his country. By his death, he was undoubtedly the most powerful and respected ruler, not only in England but in western Europe, and he achieved this through both martial and legislative prowess. Edward built on his father’s work but he immeasurably expanded it, and the chroniclers who wrote in the centuries which immediately followed his death remembered him as ‘greatly excelling his father in extent of power’.

Edward the Elder succeeded Alfred as king of the Anglo-Saxons; he died as king of the English. And yet virtually nothing has been written about him. Until now.  While biographies of Alfred and studies of the achievements of Athelstan pour from the press, Edward is forgotten. Yet he was the first ruler to leave behind him the possibility of a united England, a country in which men thought of themselves as English, speaking a language which all would have described as English, which had never existed in quite this form before.

Anyone looking to fully understand and appreciate the making of medieval England must look to understand and appreciate Edward the Elder and his reign.

The Sovereign and the Pirate by Lakshmi Subramanian

Around the turn of the nineteenth century, the northwestern littoral of India—largely comprising of Gujarat, Kathiawad, Cutch, and Sind—was battered by piratical raids. These attacks disrupted coastal trade and embarrassed the English East India Company by defying the very boundaries of law and sovereignty that the Company was trying to impose. Who were these pirates whom the Company described as small-time crooks habituated to a life of raiding and thieving? How did they perceive themselves? What did they mean when they insisted that theft was their livelihood and that it enjoyed the sanction of God?

Exploring the phenomenon and politics of predation in the region, Lakshmi Subramanian teases out a material history of piracy—locating its antecedents, its social context, and its ramifications—during a crucial period of political turbulence marked by global expansion of commercial exchanges headed by the Company. She investigates the fissures within the colonial project of law and anti-piracy regulations and, through the lens of maritime politics, unravels the skeins of a distinct mode of subaltern protest.


About the Author
Lakshmi Subramanian is Professor of History at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC), Kolkata. She was previously Professor of History at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and University of Calcutta, Kolkata.

In Spies We Trust by Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones - Oxford University Press

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In Spies We Trust






In Spies We Trust reveals the full story of the Anglo-American intelligence relationship - ranging from the deceits of World War I to the mendacities of 9/11 - for the first time.

Why did we ever start trusting spies? It all started a hundred years ago. First we put our faith in them to help win wars, then we turned against the bloodshed and expense, and asked our spies instead to deliver peace and security. By the end of World War II, Britain and America were cooperating effectively to that end. At its peak in the 1940s and 1950s, the 'special intelligence relationship' contributed to national and international security in what was an Anglo-American century.

But from the 1960s this 'special relationship' went into decline. Britain weakened, American attitudes changed, and the fall of the Soviet Union dissolved the fear that bound London and Washington together. A series of intelligence scandals along the way further eroded public confidence. Yet even in these years, the US offered its old intelligence partner a vital gift: congressional attempts to oversee the CIA in the 1970s encouraged subsequent moves towards more open government in Britain and beyond.

So which way do we look now? And what are the alternatives to the British-American intelligence relationship that held sway in the West for so much of the twentieth century? Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones shows that there are a number - the most promising of which, astonishingly, remain largely unknown to the Anglophone world.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Royal Favouritism by Alistair Malcolm

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Royal Favouritism and the Governing Elite of the Spanish Monarchy, 1640-1665






Royal Favouritism and the Governing Elite of the Spanish Monarchy, 1640-1665 presents a study of the later years of the reign of Philip IV from the perspective of his favourite (valido), don Luis Méndez de Haro, and of the other ministers who helped govern the Spanish Habsburg Monarchy. It offers a positive vision of a period that is often seen as one of failure and decline. Unlike his predecessors, Haro exercised the favour that he enjoyed in a discreet way, acting as a perfect courtier and honest broker between the king and his aristocratic subjects. 

Nevertheless, Alistair Malcolm also argues that the presence of a royal favourite at the head of the government of Spain amounted to a major problem. The king's delegation of his authority to a single nobleman was considered by many to have been incompatible with good kingship, and Philip IV was himself very uneasy about failing in his responsibilities as a ruler. Haro was thus in a highly insecure situation, and sought to justify his regime by organizing the management of a prestigious and expensive foreign policy. In this context, the eventual conclusion of the very honourable peace with France in 1659 is shown to have been as much the result of the independent actions of other ministers as it was of a royal favourite very reluctantly brought to the negotiating table at the Pyrenees. 

By conclusion, the quite sudden collapse of Spanish European hegemony after Haro's death in 1661 is represented as a delayed reaction to the repercussions of a flawed system of government.

Concubines and Courtesans - Matthew S. Gordon & Kathryn A. Hain

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Concubines and Courtesans






Concubines and Courtesans contains sixteen essays that consider, from a variety of viewpoints, enslaved and freed women across medieval and pre-modern Islamic social history. The essays bring together arguments regarding slavery, gender, social networking, cultural production (songs, poetry and instrumental music), sexuality, Islamic family law, and religion in the shaping of Near Eastern and Islamic society over time. They range over nearly 1000 years of Islamic history - from the early, formative period (seventh to tenth century C.E.) to the late Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal eras (sixteenth to eighteenth century C.E.) - and regions from al-Andalus (Islamic Spain) to Central Asia (Timurid Iran).

The close, common thread joining the essays is an effort to account for the lives, careers and representations of female slaves and freed women participating in, and contributing to, elite urban society of the Islamic realm. Interest in a gendered approach to Islamic history, society and religion has by now deep roots in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies. The shared aim of the essays collected here is to get at the wealth of these topics, and to underscore their centrality to a firm grasp on Islamic and Middle Eastern history.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Record Play Pause by Stephen Morris

‘Unique and thoughtful’: Stephen Morris’s musical memoirThere’s some great foreshadowing in the first volume of drummer Stephen Morris’s enjoyable memoir. “Drummers, Stephen,” says his dad in the early 1970s. “They all end up taking morphine and drinking absinthe. You don’t want to end up like that, do you?” Morris says no, but this book is, to start with, less about Joy Division (and not about New Order until the final chapter) and more about his vivid childhood in Macclesfield as a “compulsive liar and compulsive crier”. Written in a wryly conversational tone, the dialogue from 40 years ago is often too good to be true, but makes for a unique and thoughtful musical memoir about a boy inching his way to success, then having to deal with tragedy.


From the Publisher:
Joy Division became the favourite for a new name. We decided to try it out on people and see how it went down. In Macclesfield, predictably, it didn't go down too well.

'Sounds like the fuckin' Salvation Army or sommat' was the man-in-the-pub's response, and I suppose he did have a point. But after a while whatever you call yourself, however silly it sounds at first, does take on another meaning. Once it gets tangled up with how you look and the music that you play, it becomes part of your image, but we didn't think of implications of that . . .

Before he was responsible for some of the most iconic drumming in popular music, Stephen Morris grew up in 1960s and '70s industrial Macclesfield, on a quiet road that led seemingly to nowhere. Far removed from the bright lights and manic energy of nearby Manchester, he felt stifled by suburbia and feared he might never escape. Then he joined Joy Division - while they were still known as Warsaw - a pioneer of the rousing post-punk sound that would revolutionise twentieth-century rock.

Following two landmark albums and widespread critical acclaim, Joy Division were at the height of their powers and poised to break the US, when lead singer, Ian Curtis, committed suicide.

Part memoir, part scrapbook and part aural history: Stephen Morris's innate sense of rhythm and verve pulses through Record Play Pause. From recollections of growing up in the North West to the founding of New Order, Morris never strays far from the music. And by turns profound and wry, this book subverts the mythology and allows us to understand music's power to define who we are and what we become.

A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson – when Agatha went missing | Books | The Guardian

A thriller based around Agatha Christie’s real-life disappearance in 1926 is deft, dark and thoroughly good fun.

Agatha Christie: now you see her, now you don’t
In a real-life mystery as intriguing as the plots from her novels, Agatha Christie went missing for 10 days in the winter of 1926. To this day, no one really knows what she got up to, and literary biographer Andrew Wilson can’t resist the opportunity to use this fascinating set-up as a starting point for a really enjoyable – and wholly fictional – blackmail and murder-laden thriller. It’s a simple premise easily encapsulated on the jacket: “You, Mrs Christie, are going to commit a murder… but, before then, you are going to disappear.” But with a backdrop of marital breakdown and real-life scandal it feels a lot less stagey than a typical Christie novel.

A Talent for Murder is the first in a series and has been optioned for TV: it’s not difficult to see why. Wilson not only knows his subject but he deftly moves this Agatha Christie tale away from mere literary ventriloquism and into darker, more psychological territory. Great fun, too.

Fallen Order: Intrigue, Heresy, and Scandal in the Rome of Galileo and Caravaggio by Karen Liebreich

Fallen Order: Intrigue, Heresy, and Scandal in the Rome of Galileo and Caravaggio by [Liebreich, Karen]
From @ Amazon.com
Catholic hierarchies protecting paedophile priests is a scandal as old as time, and one that has plagued the Church since the 1600s.  In 1643, after a failure by the Church hierarchy to deal with child abuse scandals amongst their members, a group of priests took control of the Order of the Clerics Regular of the Pious Schools.  It would be anachronistic to call this group a paedophile ring, but it is nevertheless true that a man accused of abusing the boys in his care was promoted to universal superior of a Catholic teaching order, supported by a small group of like-minded priests, and with the full complicity of the Inquisition and the pope himself.

This is the world that Karen Liebreich uncovers; one of ancient, deeply disturbing and intensely secretive shames that was endorsed by Joseph Calasanz, the founder of The Order of the Pious Schools.  It was at these private schools, run by the Piarist order of priests, that some of the most famous children in history were educated and vast contributions to science, art and culture were also overseen by heads of the Church.

Yet investigations into child-molestation and the relentless brutality of priests were frequently quashed – countless children who were the recipients of abuse and psychological violence were silenced.  Great lengths were taken to protect the reputation of the Church as rivalry, bribes, conspiracy, evil and pressure from the Vatican continued to mount amongst the priests.

Liebreich brilliantly depicts the dangerous politics of the Church in seventeenth-century Rome, revealing previously hidden and immensely sobering information she uncovered during her intense historical research.

Being Protestant in Reformation Britain by Alec Ryrie

The Reformation was about ideas and power, but it was also about real human lives. Alec Ryrie provides the first comprehensive account of what it actually meant to live a Protestant life in England and Scotland between c. 1530-1640, drawing on a rich mixture of contemporary devotional works, sermons, diaries, biographies, and autobiographies to uncover the lived experience of early modern Protestantism.

Beginning from the surprisingly urgent, multifaceted emotions of Protestantism, Ryrie explores practices of prayer, of family and public worship, and of reading and writing, tracking them through the life course from childhood through conversion and vocation to the deathbed. He examines what Protestant piety drew from its Catholic predecessors and contemporaries, and grounds that piety in material realities such as posture, food and tears.

This perspective shows us what it meant to be Protestant in the British Reformations: a meeting of intensity (a religion which sought authentic feeling above all, and which dreaded hypocrisy and hard-heartedness) with dynamism (a progressive religion, relentlessly pursuing sanctification and dreading idleness). That combination, for good or ill, gave the Protestant experience its particular quality of restless, creative zeal.

The Protestant devotional experience also shows us that this was a broad-based religion: for all the differences across time, between two countries, between men and women, and between puritans and conformists, this was recognisably a unified culture, in which common experiences and practices cut across supposed divides. Alec Ryrie shows us Protestantism, not as the preachers on all sides imagined it, but as it was really lived.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Review: The Course of all Treasons by Suzanna M Wolfe

46813482. sy475 Synopsis: The Elizabethan court is beset by traitors at home and abroad as spies, rogues, and would-be usurpers of the throne vie for power.

England, 1586. Tensions rise as threats to the realm abound. Traitors are plotting for Mary Queen of Scots to depose Elizabeth I and take the throne. Rumors of a Spanish invasion by sea mount daily. And the body of one of Sir Francis Walsingham's agents is found floating in the Thames as other agents face enemies armed with crossbows and vials of poison.

Nicholas Holt, a spy in Walsingham's employ, narrowly averts the same fate while setting off in pursuit of the killer--or killers. And when he surprises a suspect in the company of a Spanish agent, he believes he's close not only to solving the case but preventing an act of high treason.




The Course of all Treasons follows on from A Murder By Any Name - and the first book is referenced throughout (in case, like me, you are starting this one first).

I found it an enjoyable read - having read much about Elizabethan England and the spy network, it was not hard for me to follow the storyline. Elizabethan England was a melting pot for all sorts of plots and treasonable activities, with a good dose of religious turmoil added for good measure. And it wasn't just threats from abroad that Elizabeth's spymaster Walsingham had to focus on, but also those from within.

This period in English history provides the historical fiction writer with so much material, from events around which to entwine a plot, to a cast of many from whom to draw either a central or a secondary one to tie a fictional one to. It was a time leading up to what is now as the Spanish Armada; Mary Queen of Scots, whilst a prisoner of Elizabeth, was a rallying point for those looking to replace the aging queen; and on a religious note, the new Protestant order was being challenged by the displaced Catholics. You could not ask for a better backdrop!

Wolfe chooses to focus on the Elizabethan spy network which was not just run by Elizabeth's chief spymaster Walsingham, but also (independently of the Crown) by a number of well-connected nobles, including two of Elizabeth's favourites - Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex - and also Robert Cecil, son of Elizabeth's chief minister, Lord Burghley.

" ... the case reeked not only of agents double crossing each other but of court politics, the nastiest smell of all ..."

Image result for elizabethan spyAs one agent is killed, and others targeted, Nicholas Holt, younger brother of the Earl of Blackwell—spy, rake, and owner of the infamous Black Sheep tavern in the seedy district of Bankside - is sent by Robert Cecil to investigate. Wolfe's style has an easy flow, and is almost conversationally. There is enough tension and double dealing to keep the reader captivated. What I did enjoy was the author's notes wherein she enlightens the reader to a bit of artistic licence (no spoiler alert here).

" ... the historical novelist is like a camera trying to focus on the distant scene of the past ..."