Written by Rory Clements

This is the fourth in Clements’ John Shakespeare series. John is Will’s older brother and an ‘intelligencer’ in the Queen’s service. As usual Will makes a cameo appearance, giving minor support to his better-connected brother.

As in the earlier books John is asked to unravel one of the many conspiracies which swirl around the Tudor court and, as before, the plot is fiendishly complicated and quite improbable, not unlike some of the real conspiracies. Everybody (except John and Will) is brutal and unscrupulous and conditions are grossly unsanitary.

Clements uses a wider range of settings than in his earlier books and the scene shifts from a stately home in Lancashire to a vagabond band in Oxfordshire to a military campaign in Brittany, with a cast ranging from the Queen to some of the ‘sturdy vagabonds’ who featured in the Poor Law Acts. I found this the best book in the series.

My only hesitation is that John Shakespeare seems to have a modern sensibility in the Tudor Age, but this is perhaps the only way for the author to confront us with the nastiness of life in the late 16th century.