Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Where There's A Will...

"Three books for £1" proclaimed the sign on the table in the CS - and two books about Joyce Grenfell caught my eye - one a biography, the other a book of monologues. I've often done JG's stuff as 'party pieces' and this edition had stuff which was new to me. I cast around for a third book. Frequently I end up just taking two tomes - but one book caught my eye, so I thought I'd give it a go. Then I bumped into a friend from our OAP Lunch Club, who insisted on paying for the books as an Easter treat for me. How very kind. The novel was this one
I did not know this author [apparently one of England's most high profile headteachers] but was fascinated by this historical spy thriller set in 1612.
James 1 is on the throne, his chief secretary and spymaster, Robert Cecil is dying - and the glorious days of drama are fading with the death of Christopher Marlowe and the apparent retreat of William Shakespeare.
Cecil summons Henry Gresham to retrieve the missing manuscript of an important play. 
This is the second book of the series [the first, Desperate Remedy] concerns the Gunpowder Plot] but it did not matter that I'd not read that.
HG is, in many ways, a James Bond type. Clever, ruthless, quick thinking - mostly 'on the side of the angels' but not above brutal violence if it serves his purpose. Like many heroes, he had a dysfunctional childhood [orphaned, and brought up by Mannion, the faithful family manservant] He uses his inherited wealth wisely, and is worshipped by all his household staff. He has rescued a young girl who was being treated badly by her guardian and brought her back to his home. She, of course, falls in love with her knight in shining armour - and astutely sets about running the household efficiently, until he at last realises he cannot do without her- lets down his guard, and falls in love with the bright and beautiful woman she has become, and makes her his wife.
By 1612, he and Jane have two young children, and whilst she is intelligent enough to realise his work as a spy is dangerous, she is wise enough not to get in his way. Along with Mannion, they make a formidable team. Yes, there is violence, but there is also wit, and touching descriptions of the relationships within the Gresham household. Although Jane recognises there are matters which her husband must keep confidential, they are a close, committed and loving couple with a strong marriage even in the face of adversity.
King James, William Shakespeare, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes [who oversaw the work on the KJV Bible] and other characters of the period are well portrayed, and excellent descriptions of places and costumes give atmosphere and credibility to the story.
I do not want to give away the plot - but I will say it is well crafted, and I found it a real 'page turner'. Each chapter is headed with the date, the location, and an apposite quote from either the works of Mr Shakespeare or the King James Version.
I have borrowed another in the series [Rebel Heart, about the Earl of Essex] from Ferndown Library, so that will be my Easter reading. It was, surprisingly, in the 'General Fiction' section- I had expected to find it on the Crime shelves, near C J Sansom's Shardlake. 
My knowledge of the first half of the 17th Century is woefully lacking - so this was a change from my usual Tudor or Restoration fodder. 
Read more about Stephen, and Gresham in this Guardian article
Definitely rating this *****
Has anyone else read another Gresham novel? if so, which? and did you enjoy it?


  1. Oooh, it sounds an interesting series to have tried! I do like your description of the plot!

  2. Kezzie, I think that you would really enjoy this series!


Always glad to hear from you - thanks for stopping by!
I am blocking anonymous comments now, due to excessive spam!