Execution (Giordano Bruno Thriller)

Written by S. J. Parris
Review by Tom Vallar

In early summer 1586, Mary Stuart of Scotland has been imprisoned for 20 years amid continued rumors that her Catholic supporters in England will find aid from Spain to help her gain the throne from Queen Elizabeth. The latest plot, led by a young nobleman named Anthony Babington, envisions assassinating Elizabeth before transporting Mary to her coronation. Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, cannot allow that, so he enlists Giordano Bruno, an excommunicated Italian priest, to go undercover with the conspirators – posing as the Spanish priest sent to fund the plot and represent the promised aid.

Bruno is also charged with finding out who murdered the last spy who attempted to infiltrate the conspirators. His search takes him through London’s seedier districts, where he meets a Moorish healer, several lantern boys, and a Jesuit priest who knows the Spaniard that Bruno is impersonating. The key in the spy game is held by Walsingham’s cryptographer, the inscrutable Thomas Phelippes, whose fantastic memory and logical mind make his cyphers the envy of all the world. However, in solving the murder and uncovering the next step in the plot, it takes a child’s mind to see through the cunning.

Parris paints Elizabethan London in all its glorious and putrid details and portrays Bruno as the philosophical enigma and supreme problem-solver. Yet this sixth book in the Bruno series is true to history in keying on Phelippes, while still depicting Bruno’s genius in using all his wits and resources in the nick of time to save lives and prevent an execution. This is a fine period mystery that can stand alone as well as please fans of the series.