Marbeck and the Gunpowder Plot

Written by John Pilkington
Review by Ilysa Magnus

I admit that I have not had the pleasure of meeting Marbeck before, thinking him just a bit too testosterone-driven. I was wrong.

Marbeck is a government spy in 1605, during the reign of King James, newly crowned. With England still reeling from fierce divisions between the Protestant majority and Catholics, Papists remain high on the government’s “hit list.” Among those targeted are Jesuit priests and Thomas Percy. When Marbeck’s informants hint at terrible doings directed at the King by Papists both known and unknown, Marbeck is aghast at the fact that the spymaster refuses to take those threats seriously. Marbeck then goes slightly rogue and uncovers what he believes to be a plot to blow up Parliament, the King and his family. We have come to know it as the Gunpowder Plot.

Pilkington’s Marbeck is delightful – strong, resilient, smart – driven to do what he believes is right and just, but having enough of a conscience to see that the insane persecution and destruction of “papists” is going too far in many instances. He is also deeply humanized by his love for Meriel. Since it seems as if Marbeck has the nine lives of a cat and Pilkington leaves off the story just in time to prepare us for another installment, I wait anxiously for it. Marbeck is a terrific protagonist and we come to like, respect and admire him.