December 1657, London, and Oliver Cromwell still governs the United Kingdom while the future Charles II lies in exile on the continent. John Grey, in the meantime, John Grey is trying to restart his legal career following the events of A Cruel Necessity. But when he receives a message from a “Mr SK”, he makes what could be considered a mistake. Despite not being convinced that the message is for him, he goes to the meeting that it details. And that’s when his troubles really begin…
Grey soon finds himself working as an at-least-double agent. Both the Sealed Knot – the conspiracy working towards the restoration of the monarchy – and John Thurloe, Cromwell’s Secretary of State believe that John is working for them. There is a plot to kill Cromwell afoot, but is John there to help it or to prevent it? At a time when people are switching sides to be with the winners, but when who the winners will be is still unclear, John clearly doesn’t know who to trust. If fact, he’s not even sure if he knows who he should be working for…
First off, as with A Cruel Necessity, don’t expect a Reformation version of an Ethelred and Elsie story. Yes, there are some similarities between John and Ethelred’s voices, but that’s about it. Ethelred’s voice is prone to misdirection due to various plot-related reasons, whereas John’s unreliability is due to the fact that for a fair proportion of the time, he doesn’t have much of a clue what’s going on or who to trust.
This is much more of a spy thriller, which isn’t usually my cup of tea, but L C Tyler’s writing elevates this well above the norm. The humour in the writing, especially when John is trying to convince himself of something that isn’t true, such as his feelings for Amanita, works particularly well. Rather than talking to a reader, it is as if John is mostly talking to himself about what happened, which gives the text a slightly different flavour than some other first person narratives. At times, I felt that I should have made a few notes as to who was who, but the author does a good job of reminding the less attentive reader who’s who without spelling it out, which I much appreciated.
The tale itself is a complex one – this certainly isn’t a book that you can dip in and out of. There are a large number of characters – some real, some made up by the author – and each of them has their own agenda and loyalties. John is basically the sort of character who, when in a hole, will end up digging a deeper and deeper one before something pulls him out – if something does, of course, and there’s every chance that something will just drop him in a different hole. He’s smart enough to solve an immediate problem but would be a rubbish chess player.
So, all in all, it’s an intriguing enjoyable tale with a nice line in humour that doesn’t derail the seriousness of the plot. Highly Recommended.
The book is out on Thursday 14th January in the UK. This is Day One of the Blog Tour for the book – do check out my interview with L C Tyler and what my fellow bloggers thought of the book – there are links on that page to the other stops on the tour.