The Virgin Queen is dying. She has yet to nominate an heir.
The crown looks set to fall to James of Scotland.
But it is far from inevitable.
Gowrie, a sinister Scottish traitor, has arrived in England. On him is a document containing a shocking secret that will compromise King James.
Languishing in prison, artful thief Ned Savage is freed by his patron, the queen’s principal secretary, Sir Robert Cecil. His mission is to find the document before it can be made public. If he succeeds, his life will be spared.
But he is not alone in seeking Gowrie.
On his trail are a ruthless gang of conspirators. The Red Cross Plot aims to prevent any foreigner from taking the English throne. And the Knights of the Red Cross will kill to secure the document. In a journey that will take him from London to Derbyshire and Scotland, Savage must foil the Red Cross Plot, protect King James’s darkest secret, and keep himself safe from execution.
And he must do it all before the curtain falls on Elizabeth’s reign.
I always thought that James I’s succession to Queen Elizabeth was a forgone conclusion. Maybe not? Anti-Scottish sentiment had a centuries-long history in England, so why should anticipation of a new Scots king be welcomed by the populace? That’s pretty much the premise of this interesting tale of an up-and-coming spy—and petty thief—working for Robert Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s secretary. Cecil’s vested interest in James I is threatened by a potentially devastating document whose current location is unknown. Our protagonist, the clever but flawed Edward Savage is put hot on the trail, though at times his own troubles get in the way of success—not to mention his inexperience. We have the usual collection of scoundrels driven by greed and ambition and a straightforward story line tripping us up with the occasional red herring. Edward Savage is homosexual, which adds an interesting dimension to his character but doesn’t impact on events. He has an obsession with a family pincushion he buried as a boy, but I couldn’t figure out where it fit into the plot. He hates his elder brother, but again no direct impact on events. Maybe all this comes out in volume two. Meanwhile, the search for the missing document leads him a merry chase to Scotland and back again, with many fatalities along the way and personal betrayals:
Idly, I thought about the blood that had been spilt already. One little paper had sent a regent and a nobleman of Scotland to the block, had caused men to be stabbed to death by a suspicious and grasping king, had set a man’s corpse up on the gate to Edinburgh, and had now brought about the deaths of two London lads in the service of someone who sat in the English parliament.
What could it possibly have to say?
The story does a good job of depicting life in the early 17th century, especially the lower levels of society. We get a feel of the day-to-day difficulties and challenges in this unforgiving society, where life has little value and it’s every man for himself. It flowed very well and I got a good feel for the characters.
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