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by Martin Stephen
Time Warner Paperback, October 2002
324 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0751532592

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This historical thriller is subtitled Henry Gresham and the Gunpowder Plot thus establishing that a reallife notorious event of 1605 in London will be investigated by a fictional character. The event in question - the apparent attempt by Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening by King James 1 in November 1605 - is wellknown since it is still commemorated in the UK every November 5th by bonfires (possibly with effigies of Guy Fawkes on top)  and fireworks.  I thought that to read about such a famous event would be unexciting but I was wrong. Martin Stephen successfully establishes the significant characters of the tale and combines the development of their actual plot with considerable intrigue around Henry Gresham. Real plotters are enmeshed by their leader and friend, Robert Catesby, while Gresham uses his spy network to deal with complex and mysterious threats that may emanate from the machinations of the king's minister Robert Cecil.

The picture of the Jacobean age is rich in period detail and pungently convincing in its contrasts of wealth and poverty, Court life, pulsating London slums and peaceful countryside. Not only do the plotters, Cecil and the King feature but also Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Ralegh, Ben Jonson and Moll Cutpurse (she was new to me and proved to be grotesquely larger than life). The twists and turns of a burgeoning intrigue provide tightening suspense while Stephen interprets with delicacy the motives of complex characters. As detectives Gresham and his team of mistress and bodyguard function efficiently.

A reader unfamiliar with the Gunpowder Plot could not fail to become engrossed by this seventeenth century imbroglio and a reader with existing knowledge would find the way the tale is told and the delineation of the background equally fascinating. A second episode of Gresham's adventures has been published in hardback, moving on into 1612.  

Try this suspenseful, dark, jacobean story of bloodstained English history. As the children's rhyme goes -

   Remember, remember the 5th of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot,

The 5th of November must never be forgot!

Reviewed by Jennifer Palmer, August 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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