A pickpocket’s latest haul comes with a dangerous curse.
Jack Blackjack lives in a hovel with fellow thieves Wat, Gil, and Ham; their fence, Bill Tanner; and his mistress, the delectable Moll. Jack steals a purse in a tavern and escapes through the door to the yard only to wake up next to a dead man. Back with his friends, he opens the purse, which holds a great deal of money and, as Jack secretly discovers, a hidden pocket containing a paper with a coded message. Since most people think Jack murdered the unidentified man for his purse, he must be careful to avoid the law while he tries to translate the cypher and find the real killer. Queen Mary’s plan to marry a Spaniard does not sit well with the populace, and London is about to be attacked by a rebel army led by Wyatt, who wants to return Lady Jane Grey to the throne. A codebreaker helps Jack decipher the note, an order directed to Wyatt from some powerful personage. Meantime, Gil is beaten to death, probably because he was wearing the purse Jack stole, which has become the target of several mysterious groups. Each time the hapless Jack thinks he’s made a discovery leading to the murderer, he realizes he’s wrong and starts off on a new path. Despite his horror of killing, he ends up having to fight the rebels. Now he’s threatened with a painful death by the Lord High Chancellor and constantly harried by both friends and enemies of the queen.
Jecks inaugurates his new series by moving from medieval times (The Deadliest Sin, 2014, etc.) to the turbulent Tudor period. His unlikely detective is neither brave nor wise nor very bright, but he’s often quite funny as he doggedly tracks down an unexpected killer.