A fascinating glimpse into the world of the Elizabethan secret service is given here. An immensely interesting subject. But what about the actual structure of the book itself - and in particular the length? It runs to 416 pages in my copy, of which pages 275 onwards are taken up with: firstly an appendix detailing it seems just about every person Walsingham ever had within his spy network; then a long section of notes; a chronology; a section called 'dramatis personae;' an enormous bibliography and finally a gigantic index. In other words the actual biographical text of the book itself runs to just 274 pages - from which we need to subtract the front matter and acknowledgements, which takes us to the real start of the biography proper on page 15.
So, 259 pages of text in rather large type-face. All this underlines the point that very little is known about Walsingham, and if you just stick to the facts, as the author has done admirably here, there is really not that much to say, and really not much to pad-out a book of this kind! All this, the author would probably have not had much say over, and is perhaps a further example, of which there are many these days, of a publisher endeavouring to make the book appear more acceptable in length for the bookshelves. Given the choice I would give the author four stars for his work, but the publisher only one.
However, that set aside, this is a well researched piece of work, and treats the often very emotive subject matter with neutrality, not taking sides it seems one way or another, which is commendable. I would have liked to see more on the intriguing subject of ciphers that were used extensively at this time, and of how these developed over Walsingham's career. The Babbington plot and the armada are covered, of course, and there is a length chapter dealing with the trial of Mary Queen of Scots, which has been written about at great length elsewhere. So nothing much new added in that respect. Walsingham himself is in the background a lot of the time, an observer of these events. But again, there is not much known about what he got up to. It was after all secret! So, if you are looking for a good, all-round introduction to what we know about this interesting man, which is not a lot, then yes - this volume is worth a look. But it is, by necessity, short.