The King’s Spy

Written by Mark Turnbull
Review by Carol McGrath

The King’s Spy by Mark Turnbull is a fast-paced novella set during the aftermath of King Charles’s final battle of the English Civil War at Naseby. The battle itself is stunningly and graphically depicted, reminding me of how Scott described Prestonpans in Waverley: superb writing and accurate yet incorporating strong emotions of anxiety, fear, duty and courage. The story belongs to Turnbull’s extremely interesting and likeable royalist hero, Maxwell. His escape following Naseby takes him to Wistow Hall owned by Sir Richard Halford but soon occupied by Cromwellian Colonel Hopkins and his troop. All are most unpleasant.

Maxwell is placed in serious jeopardy as he infiltrates Parliamentary trust whilst posing as an estate blacksmith. The crux of this plot concerns the King’s papers and ciphers hidden in the country house, items which he and another royalist seek. Maxwell’s deception enables him to acquire important information for the King, but will he retrieve the threatened ciphers and papers?

This is a tight and brilliantly plotted novella. It is thoroughly researched with precise detail. Turnbull is, importantly, a master of characterisation. I cared deeply about Maxwell’s fortunes and misfortunes. I was there, riding ghost-like at his heels, heart thumping at every plot twist and turn. The King’s Spy, equally, incorporates excellent scene setting and atmosphere. Although I was disappointed that it was not a full-length novel, I was filled with admiration for the author’s use of precise language throughout and easily became lost in the story. I look forward to reading its continuation in the next book of the series.