The Firemaster’s Mistress
A firemaster is an expert with gunpowder and its various uses. Although it was known in Europe since Marco Polo’s return from China, in 1605 England gunpowder was used mainly in war. Francis Quoynt and his father, Boomer, are fourth- and fifth-generation firemasters. Boomer has long since retired, but his son, Francis, welcomes the new peace so he can pursue his ambition of artistic firework displays for festivals, parties and weddings. This type of employment requires a government patent, which brings Francis to London to see Robert Cecil. Cecil, wily, manipulative politician that he is, promises the patent if Francis agrees to ferret out a plot against King James I, which Cecil knows involves a significant amount of gunpowder.
While in London, Quoynt hopes to find his long-lost mistress, Kate Peach, a glovemaker, whom he had abandoned to go to war. Kate has put herself under the dubious protection of a man named Traylor, who uses Kate more for transporting secret messages than for sex. When Kate and Francis finally reunite, their former passion flares briefly but dies in the cold morass of suspicion and mistrust. Underlying everyone’s motivations is religion. Both Kate and the Quoynt family, although unknown to each other, are underground Roman Catholics.
Dickason has written a highly suspenseful novel. The period’s religious strife and mutual mistrust between Roman Catholics and Anglicans are the catalyst between hero and heroine. All is interwoven in political treachery and plots not only to assassinate King James, but to destroy all of Parliament in one “great blow.” Dickason’s descriptions of the City of London and Southwark across the Thames, combined with the use of real people, make the period come alive.