Ten years from now if someone asks me if I have read this book I may not remember the characters or the plot or who did what but I’ll be able to say, ‘Oh that’s the book where she-intelligencer Diana Jennings pees into an ale mug under her skirts in the inn.’ I think it will live with me forever. Of course that was at the beginning. There are more references to urinating in public places, from very un-private privies to alleyways and buckets. For someone of my genteel sensitivities this shocked me more than the beheading of the king. What no Andrex?
But I digress. What a fantastic read. This is a period of history I know a little about but not much and I had never heard of she-intelligencers. I had never heard of John Thurloe either, the Spymaster and Postmaster, the latter meaning that he and his cronies opened everyone’s letters looking for secret messages and information. Not to mention torture by burning matches under the fingernails if suspected. Ouch. Basically Thurloe is a supporter of Oliver Cromwell and they are seeking out those who wish to overthrow his government and bring back the exiled Charles Stuart (Charles II) and install him on the throne. No history lesson intended. Thurloe was a real person as were most of the characters so it’s no good thinking ‘I hope the so-and-so gets his comeuppance at the hands (or daggers) of whoever,’ because a bit of research on Google will be full of spoilers as to who does and who doesn’t. The three main female protagonists – the aforementioned Diana, Susan Hyde and Molly – are strong women with a just cause (republicans may disagree here). Men’s chauvinism and misogyny went in the women’s favour because the men just could not believe women capable of such deeds. Little did they know.
There are lots of things to please spy fans – letter locking (Google it – it’s fascinating stuff), invisible ink, women dressed as men – very Shakespearean – and such like.
It is at times a bit confusing. There is so much background to absorb that it does get a little convoluted in the middle, but if you love historical fiction – and even if you don’t – this is a thrilling ride by anyone’s standards.
Congratulations to Peter Langman for giving us such an entertaining read and to the Pigeonhole, Peter and my fellow Pigeons for their wonderful comments and involvement.