The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez

Written by Ann Swinfen
Review by Richard Abbott

This is a Tudor book with a difference. The main focus is on a young Portuguese immigrant, Christoval, known as Kit, a skilled but junior doctor at Bart’s Hospital during the reign of Elizabeth I. Kit happens also to have been mathematically trained in youth back in Portugal, and this talent comes to the attention of Sir Francis Walsingham, ever looking out for people to recruit as code breakers.

Issues of secrecy and truth run throughout the book. Kit’s own family has both religious and personal secrets they strive to keep hidden, and Walsingham’s world is a very murky one as he works to protect Queen Elizabeth from both real and imagined threats. Finding the moral high ground in all this is not easy. Being a doctor at Bart’s may be hard and emotionally wearying, but Kit finds the issues are very clear-cut in the hospital.

The part of London where much of the book is set, the locations and movements, have a pleasing sense of confidence and familiarity about them. But as well as the streets of London, Kit’s work with Walsingham involves journeys down to the Cinque Ports area of the south coast, and north to Staffordshire.

There is a clear sense in this novel that Kit’s story will continue further. The level of background information is greater than strictly necessary for this particular story, and the narrative spreads over a broad canvas, only parts of which are as yet filled in. Although this particular work is complete in itself, there is plenty of open space for later development.