A Murder By Any Name: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery

Written by Suzanne M. Wolfe
Review by Kristen McQuinn

In this series debut, younger noble son Nicholas Holt, soldier and spy for William Cecil, is assigned to investigate the brutal murder of Queen Elizabeth’s youngest, most innocent lady-in-waiting. When a second lady-in-waiting is murdered shortly after the first, the stakes get even higher for Nick, whose loyalty as a member of a recusant family (those who might secretly be Catholics) might be in question if he cannot discover the murderer. He relies on the help of his friends, Spanish Jewish doctors Eli and Rivkah, his childhood friend John, and his faithful and well-trained wolfhound Hector, to home in on a cold-blooded killer who won’t stop until forced by the Queen’s executioner.

A Murder by Any Name is a fast-paced read that held my attention strongly throughout. While the plot itself isn’t too surprising—I’ve read too many mysteries to be taken in by much—the historical details and character development are extremely well done and more than made up for any lack of surprise for me. Wolfe’s attention to detail was such that I could practically smell the stench of the Thames—or Elizabeth’s breath! The atmosphere she created also encompassed the feelings of fear and paranoia surrounding the Jewish communities, who were so often the scapegoats for anything that went wrong. Skillfully, Wolfe crafts a protagonist who is sympathetic as well as empathetic while retaining historical accuracy, a tremendous balancing act in itself. Nick Holt is a product of his time, but he is not hardened or indifferent to the suffering of those beneath him on the social scale. He is a wonderful, sensitive, believable character, and I wish there were more period pieces with men like him in them. I am looking forward to reading more books in this series and definitely recommend this one.