I go to Westminster to see the last of our swans. . . . A black swan it is true. But then, black swans are rare."" Thus Sir Francis Bacon, a flawed, thin voice, comments on Sir Walter Raleigh, the poet, courtier, adventurer and soldier, when he was taken to Westminster Hall and execution. And other contemporaries, in the ""shifting winds and tricky tides"" of King James' time, are caught and heard during Raleigh's dwindling hours -- some reaching the appropriate pitch of involvement. Among them the King, wily and frozen in his own divinity, and conscious that Raleigh had managed to make his death ""a kind of murder""; and Coke, the attorney general, who squirms between his dream of law common and divine; the new Mayor of London worrying about his celebration which falls on the execution day -- along with other officials, priests, commoners and the elderly executioner and his son. And of course Raleigh, the ultimate Elizabethan thrust into another age, aware of the heights a life can reach however tethered by fate, meditating on gold and dust and the deathshead's last grin. Yet his end is splendid, peopled by the ghosts of his greatest days. Tudor/Stuart executions offer a tradition of thunderously dramatic scope and style and Garrett has not resisted the influence. His cadence is grand and melancholy. . . but the novel is locked into its own period and reference so that the effect of this tale of life and the abyss is removed and derived rather than immediate and shared. Still a tour de force of its kind.