Most helpful positive review
100 of 107 people found the following review helpful
Excellent on plot, research and characters
on 26 July 2010
This book is written under a pseudonym of a well-known historian, and this clearly shows in the detail behind the plot and the period setting of this book. However, it is the characters which make this book so good, and the way that the author gives us a slightly different take on history, without a hysteria factor.
The story centres on a book given to the Clarenceux Herald by Henry Machyn. This book is real, and is the subject of the author's non-fiction work. A chronicle is just a diary, so what could be so bad about giving someone your diary when you suspect that you are about to arrested on suspicion of treason. This is Elizabethan England, where the government of the Queen, in the form of Sir William Cecil made the 'Reds Under The Beds' American paranoia of the Forties and Fifties look like child's play.
Walsingham, a well documented historical figure, has been charged by Cecil with investigating any suspected plots which could endanger Elizabeth. What could be more dangerous than the suspicion that Elizabeth had no right to the throne on the basis of being illegitimate, not just in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, but also under the law of the Church of England? And, if such a suspicion turned out to be true, then it could mean the return of a Catholic monarch in the form of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the violence associated with a Catholic monarch that people remembered from the reign of Bloody Mary.
Walsingham's methods, as administered by a variety of not very savoury characters, are horrific, and Clarenceux finds himself the unwilling (initially) participant in an investigation. His home is wrecked, his wife and daughters forced to flee London, and he is on the run, all in a matter of days following the visit, in the middle of the night by Henry Machyn. Things become personal when he acts in self-defence and kills a man, who happens to be the brother of Walsingham's 'bully boys', after one of his servant boys is hanged without justification during a search of his home.
Having read books about Elizabethan England, Cecil and Walsingham, I enjoyed particularly an insight into these men, and how driven they were to keep England safe. That is the twist at the end, which I found very surprising and which really demonstrated the quality of this book. I could really empathise with the character of Clarenceux, as well as the female protagonist, Henry Machyn's wife Rebecca. The descriptions of Elizabethan England really gave flavour, not least because the book was about the 'man in the street' (relatively speaking), which is not often well illustrated in non-fiction books about the period.
Overall, the book takes historical documentation and weaves a believable story around them. When you reach the end of the book and realise how short a time period it covers (approximately a month), it makes it even more gripping: a chronicle about a real chronicle. This is history brought alive, and well worth reading.