Colm McFeeley comes from Ireland to undertake spying missions for King James’s army, facing Monmouth’s invading troops. To estimate numbers and equipment he and his fellow spy climb into Monmouth’s ships as they wait in Lyme Bay and abduct one of the officers.
Later McFeeley disguises himself as a Monmouth man, and one mission is to rescue Sarah, Lady Churchill, who is too close to the rebel forces. During these exploits he appears ready to satisfy various nymphomaniacs and meets people who quote from Restoration dramas.
The different strands of the novel, war, sex and literary erudition are out of balance, mainly because the author’s characterisation and historical background knowledge are not so sure as her military research. McFeeley is not a fully rounded hero. Murphy mentions ‘bloomers’ worn by a whore; that John Churchill and Sarah’s marriage had been arranged by their parents, whereas the Churchills wanted another match with Catherine Sedley; Sarah was unsure she loved him – read their love letters!; and calls them Lady Sarah and Lord John, an incorrect usage.
Murphy’s other novels are set at various times. Perhaps she should concentrate on one period.