Holy Spy

Written by Rory Clements
Review by Edward James

This is the seventh book in Clements’ John Shakespeare series. John is the fictional elder brother of Will Shakespeare, who often has a cameo role in these stories, although not in this latest book. John is an ‘intelligencer’ in the service of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, and the books usually concern a conspiracy against the Tudor state which John unmasks. In Holy Spy the conspiracy is a real one, probably the most famous of them all, the Babington Plot which led to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

John is a multi-tasker, and alongside his ‘professional’ investigation he conducts a personal inquiry to clear his ex-mistress of a murder charge. The narrative alternates between the two plots, and since we all know the outcome of the Babington Plot the murder/mystery lies in the fictional story. The two plots overlap, but not significantly.

Clements is now more than adept at evoking the ambience of Tudor England, and this is possibly his best book to date. As the blurb says, Clements ‘does for Elizabeth’s England what Sansom does for the England of Henry VIII’, and it is difficult to give higher praise.