We first find John Lawley sleeping off a binge of epic proportions in a down-at-heel tavern in Southwark, London. Throughout the novel, he struggles to resist the siren song of alcohol as he tries in vain to keep himself sober and out of trouble. These are difficult times, not least for England`s Queen, and especially for those like John who are reluctant friends of dangerous men and potential traitors such as Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.
Lawley is drawn into political matters against his will and certainly against the advice of his good friend, William Shakespeare, who plays a major role in the novel. Shakespeare is dealing with the traumatic death of his son Hamnet and also with the creation of perhaps his greatest work, Hamlet, but he still finds time to give Lawley stalwart friendship and work designing sword fights for the theatre.
In some ways, the novel almost feels like a sequel, as there is a great deal about Lawley`s past life which comes to light over the course of the novel: history with his estranged wife, his grandfather’s secret and terrible job and Lawley`s own past as a soldier. Perhaps potential for a prequel therefore. Excellent sense of time and era, great and realistic characters who stay in the mind, full of action: what more could any historical fiction fan want? Anyone who likes C. J. Sansom or Rory Clements will find a new favourite here. Highly recommended.