The Spanish Knight’s Secret

Written by Peter H Christopher
Review by Edward James

This is a conspiracy novel in the classic formula, with two parallel time streams, ancient and modern. The ancient stream flows through Malta before and during the Great Siege by the Turks in 1565, and the main character is Juan de Guaras, the knight of the book’s title. The modern stream weaves all over Europe and features an international team of five academics who are searching for the jewelled brooch once owned by the knight, thought to be the key to a secret treasure. There is, of course, a rival team from the Knights of St John trying to frustrate them, even to the point of murder.

There is a lot going for this novel. The Great Siege is vividly told by the knight in a series of letters to his girlfriend in Spain (he finds a lot of time to write, even in the thick of the fight). The international research team, a varied and interesting group, meets in iconic settings from Barcelona to St Petersburg. According to the book’s cover, the author spent six years researching the book.

Unfortunately, the author’s research shows too much. A whole chapter is devoted to one of the fictional research team members, telling the others the history of the Knights of St John. She is egged on by the naive questions of her companions, who surely cannot have been so unknowledgeable. Elsewhere another of the team, a Canadian professor of Fine Art, admits he has never heard of the Thirty Years’ War, giving his Russian colleague the cue for a short lecture on the topic.

This is annoying for readers who know anything of early modern European history, and I doubt that those who know so little would buy a book about the Great Siege of Malta.