An Elizabethan spy must uncover a murderer close to the court.
The Honorable Nicholas Holt has been forced to take up spying for the queen because of his family’s suspicious ties to Catholicism. Someone murders Lady Cecily, one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, and the furious queen orders Nick to find the killer. When he calls upon his friend Eli, a Jewish physician who escaped Spain with his twin sister, Rivkah, Eli confirms that the deed was done with a thin-bladed knife. The meager clues are a fragrant handkerchief, a note bidding Cecily to meet at midnight, and a small topaz. Nick gives his devoted Irish wolfhound, Hector, a good sniff of the parchment in hopes that he can track the killer. The handkerchief smells of a cold remedy containing expensive ingredients, but any clues it might have carried vanished when it was picked up by an unidentified servant. The Jews are already being blamed for the death, but the shrewd queen suspects that the killer is one of her large retinue. Nick, who owns the Black Sheep Tavern, is in a casual relationship with Kat, a clever madam, but knows himself to be in love with Rivkah. Given the crowd of hangers-on always near the queen, Nick can’t determine who passed the note to Cecily, an innocent girl who romanticized the billet-doux. Nick is still investigating when another lady-in-waiting is murdered in an entirely different way. Mary, a friend of Cecily’s, was different from her even before they died: She had many lovers who must be considered suspects. The queen sends away all her remaining maids except for the elderly Countess of Berwick, who refuses to leave. Though he’s learned that the killer was left-handed, Nick must discover a motive for the two murders before the queen’s notorious temper gets the better of her.
An excellent series kickoff by Wolfe (The Confessions of X, 2016) that cleverly highlights both the mystery and the many ills of Elizabethan times.