The chronicler of Georgia folklorist Fever Devilin (December’s Thorn, 2013, etc.) turns to the dawn of Christopher Marlowe’s espionage career.
It’s no mystery why Elizabethan spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham recruits Marlowe from his studies at Cambridge at the tender age of 19. The young man has a rare skill with persuasive words, an equal skill with dagger and rapier, an actor’s knack for role-playing, and apparently no fear of confrontation or death. Since he seems indifferent to whether he lives or dies, the great game is merely a game to him. So he’s a natural to pack off to Malta along with royal physician Rodrigo Lopez, to whom he owes a debt of honor, to rescue an agent Walsingham must speak to personally if the double-pronged Spanish plot against the queen—invasion from without, insurrection by traitors loyal to Mary Queen of Scots within—is to be foiled. Rescuing the prisoner from that Malta dungeon is so easy that there are bound to be further troubles. These involve a code based on the Douay translation of the Bible favored by Catholics, assassins from Spain and Arabia, highly questionable clergymen, many poniards thrust against (and sometimes into) hostile bodies, endless speculation about Walsingham’s true motives, and the authorities’ lingering suspicion that Marlowe celebrated his departure from university by killing Cambridge bully Walter Pygott, whose own father couldn’t stand the sight of him. Naturally there’ll be time for a new love whom the apprentice spy warns, “If I have to keep rescuing you over and over again…I’ll never finish college.”
Ebullient persiflage spiced with high-level intrigue, a covey of double and triple agents, and enough action scenes for a summer movie. Eat your heart out, James Bond.