Welcome another Tudor detective. This one is John Shakespeare, elder brother of the famous Will (who makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the book), and one of Queen Elizabeth’s ‘intelligencers’. He is working in London about 50 years after C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake, and to judge by this book the city has become much more squalid and violent in the interim. Indeed it probably had, for it had grown much bigger as landless peasants swarmed in from the overpopulated countryside. Clements spares us none of the squalor and violence – the book opens with the discovery of a disembowelled pregnant woman in a burning brothel!
England in the 1580s is in the midst of a security scare. The Pope has declared Holy War on Elizabeth and is infiltrating foreign trained religious fanatics into England to carry out terrorist attacks. Anti-Catholic paranoia sweeps the country, conspiracies are everywhere and some members of the security services resort to torture in secret prisons. Shakespeare will have none of this and of course he succeeds in thwarting the terrorists and bringing them to justice, although if Francis Drake’s would-be assassin had had a better aim the outcome might not have been so fortunate.
If you enjoy the Shardlake series you will probably like this, but it is not for the squeamish.