Treason's Spring (The Archives Of The Comptrollerate-General For Scrutiny And Survey) Hardcover – 7 Sep 2017
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A rare, clever treat of a novel. * Antonia Senior, The Times * Beautifully written, wonderfully clever, this is a triumph. * Daily Telegraph on Treason's Tide * Exhilarating, passionate, inspiring and literate and will garner new readers from lovers of Hilary Mantel and Bernard Cornwell alike. * Manda Scott on Traitor's Field * A learned, beautifully written, elegant spy thriller. * The Times on The Spider of Sarajevo *
Revolution, dissent and secret plotting - trouble is rife on the streets of eighteenth century Paris, in this stunning prequel to Treason's Tide.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
As the Ministers juggle for power and safety, their wives play the society game – politics now plays out almost as much in the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the fashionable as in the governmental hall of the Tuileries Palace. Intrigue competes with flirtation, and spies hide in plain sight. And behind the glamour and wit, there lurks the dirty reality of revolution – the torturer, the murderer, the joy of the hunt.
Joseph Fouché is a member of the National Convention and its master spy. He suspects everyone but more than anything he wants to find the lost correspondence of King Louis. These letters are believed to contain the names and details of the Revolution’s enemies, all ripe for the blade. But this is a bigger game than Fouché might have first suspected. The imprisonment of the king, the turmoil of France, is an international concern and there are other spies at work in Paris, from England, Prussia and elsewhere. A cat and mouse hunt is underway but which is the cat?
Treason’s Spring is the first novel in a new trilogy from Robert Wilton but it continues a theme that has filled all of his novels and made them unique and extraordinarily clever and rewarding. This, and the other novels, are presented as the archives of the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey – in other words, the secret records of the English government’s chief spy. Past novels have taken us to Napoleonic France, the English Civil War and the outbreak of World War 1. Each stands alone but the structure and appeal is the same. The archives themselves, such as letters and interviews are combined with a dramatised narrative of what was learned at the time and since. This is an omnipotent author, writing with the benefit of hindsight, but his interjections are few and far between. Instead, the spies, their lovers, their masters and their victims are allowed to speak for themselves. And they tell fascinating tales, providing an irresistible perspective on some of the most tumultuous events in recent centuries.
The cast of Treason’s Spring is large and complex and the narrative moves between them all, sometimes in past tense, occasionally in present tense. One man in particular is believed to hold the secret of what has happened to Louis’ letters and also to his stolen jewels, a British man called Henry Greene. And everyone is in pursuit of Greene. He moves like a shadow across the novel, barely seen, but the subject of whisper and rumour. And so too are the men and women who seek him. Their lives regularly cross. They speak the language of lies and deceit.
Nobody is quite what they seem. Identities are easy to borrow, lives just as easy to lose. You’d have thought from this that it would be hard for the reader to grow attached to any of the people of this novel, but this is far from true. Robert Wilton is a masterly writer. These are all well-rounded personalities and I was attached to many of the characters – in fact, I was concerned for all of them. With the exception of Fouché and his torturing thug. I was going to list the characters I enjoyed the most when I realised that this is almost everyone on the list of dramatis personae that can be found at the start of the book. But I must point out that the women are as important as the men in this novel and the role they play is vital and every bit as dangerous, perhaps more so because they have so much more to lose.
Treason’s Spring is an enormous achievement. It is immensely clever, controlled and ambitious and it succeeds in all of its aims. I was engrossed. I admired its intellectual brilliance while also being moved to tears by the horror and sadness of events. Personal tragedies were played out time and time again during The Terror and this novel captures so well the fear and uncertainty of these bloody, chaotic months. Revolutionary Paris is itself brought to life. This opening novel suggests that we are embarking on a trilogy of significance and I will drop everything to read the succeeding novel, Treason’s Flood, which we’re told will take us to the field of Waterloo. I cannot wait! I'm grateful for the review copy.
In 1792 Edinburgh merchant Keith Kinnaird arrives in Paris as the behest of his friend and sometime trading partner, Henry Greene, only to find that Greene has disappeared and no one seems to know where he is. As Kinnaird starts to search for him he soon finds himself in trouble as the revolution is in full swing, nobody can be trusted and a stranger asking questions about a man the authorities have a suspicion of cannot stay unnoticed for long.
There is much to admire in Treason's Spring but I found it a struggle to get through as it isn't my kind of fiction - it's too literary and meandering and I'm more of an obvious, short, sharp points kind of reader.
This is a densely plotted spy novel with double cross upon double cross where no character's intentions are clear apart from Kinnaird and even then he seems too gullible to be true. It takes concentration to keep up with all the webs and tentacles so I applaud Mr Wilton's skill in plotting as he doesn't put a foot wrong and I love the ending which is so smart and ironic.
The characters are well drawn. It is interesting to watch Kinneard grow and change as the novel progresses. He possesses an unusual strength of character from the start but it morphs into steely determination by the end of the novel. The other strong character in the novel is the real life Joseph Fouché, a one man secret police, being a spy catcher and holder of many secrets. He also grows in the novel from an uncertain young man to an unscrupulous politician, determined to hold on to his power at any cost. The battle of wits between these two men is the driving force in the novel.
With an intricate plot requiring thought and concentration from the reader and strong characterisation I should have loved this book but I found the execution and much of the minutiae hard going. Firstly I should say that this is a long novel and as it has multiple points of view it is not a straightforward linear narrative. Mr Wilton covers all the bases with paragraph's from every character's point of view, excerpts from contemporaneous diaries which may or may not be real, I haven't checked, archival reports and letters to and from unnamed correspondents. There is no doubt that it gives the reader a wider understanding of events but it makes for a choppy read and puts a distance into the narrative where it is difficult to get absorbed and really root for Kinnaird. I do, however applaud Mr Wilton's research into the period and his ability to pass on the unease and fear of many citizens.
Treason's Spring is not a novel that appealed to me but it has many good points and will appeal to readers who want more that a straightforward thriller.
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