The Judas Blade

Written by John Pilkington
Review by Martin Bourne

Betsy Brand, an actress in the relaxed culture of Restoration England, is doing well financially, but her friends and family are not. Being an all-round nice person, she decides to help them out. Unfortunately, the only way to acquire the sums needed is to visit an old acquaintance, Lord Caradoc, who had been keen to recruit her as a “Crown Intelligencer” – basically a spy – and to accept his offer.

Caradoc is short of female agents with acting abilities, and Betsy is immediately thrown into uncovering a Republican plot. This involves assuming a variety of identities in England and the United Provinces, and a succession of assaults, murders, interrogations, thefts and all the other activities that go with a career in espionage.

Period feel is rather lacking. There is not enough description of the world Betsy inhabits, and generally she comes over as being too modern, too heroic and altogether too lucky. Her acceptance as an agent by her colleagues is far too convenient, and their foibles, although interesting, are also very clichéd.

As I was collating these shortcomings in my mind, I suddenly realised I had read a third of the book in one sitting! It might be rather lightweight, but The Judas Blade is a real page-turner. The steady unravelling of the plot is genuinely exciting, and there is a lot of fast-paced action, although the final resolution is a bit flat. There are far worse ways of spending your time.