The Spy of Venice

Written by Benet Brandreth
Review by Karen Warren

It is 1585 and England’s spymasters want to forge an alliance with Venice. A mission is arranged, using a group of travelling players as cover. One of these players is the young William Shakespeare, who has arrived in London following a series of misadventures that have forced him to leave his native Stratford-upon-Avon. As he travels through foreign and often hostile lands, William is swept into a world of violence, corruption and intrigue. It soon becomes apparent that only his own sharp wits can ensure the success of the mission and his own survival.

In this novel Shakespeare is presented as a kind of Elizabethan James Bond, getting into scrapes from which there is always a lucky escape, and attracting numerous women. He seems to have a love of trickery and his passion for words is apparent: devotees of Shakespeare’s work will enjoy the verbal sparring and the frequent references to his plays and sonnets. The story is a fantasy to the extent that there is no evidence that Shakespeare was ever involved in spying, although we know so little of his life that it is not impossible. But in other respects it is historically accurate, building up a picture of a dirty and violent London, a sumptuously degenerate Venice and a Europe riddled with conflicts of religion, power and commerce. Ultimately The Spy of Venice is an amusing and fast-paced action thriller that will entertain a variety of readers.