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An Air of Treason by P.F. Chisholm

P.F. Chisholm is the pseudonym of well-known British mystery and historical crime writer, Patricia Finney.  “An Air of Treason” is the sixth in her Sir Robert Carey Mystery” series set in Elizabethan England and it is a swash-buckling thriller of an historical mystery.

Sir Robert Carey is the youngest son of the illegitimate son of Henry VIII and therefore the half-brother of Queen Elizabeth I.  Carey is forced to make his way in the world as a courtier and soldier who is sometimes asked by the Queen to solve knotty murder mystery.  In an “Air of Treason” the Queen inveigles upon Carey to revisit the 30 year old murder of Elizabeth’s former lover’s wife Amy Robsart Dudley which occurred in 1560 at Dudley’s estate near Oxford.  What Carey finds confirms that a murder occurred; her death was no accident.  It also puts into question whether Carey’s father and/or the Queen herself were behind the murder.  Obviously, accusing the queen of murder would be an act of treason, so Sir Robert must tread very gently around solving this cold case crime.

An Air of Treason” literally transports the reader back to the 16th century.  Many of the characters were real historic figures and Chisholm/Finney has a very thorough understanding of what it was like to live in the 16th century and to interact with these historic figures. There are many others added to the story who are probably fictional, but are very life-like, interesting characters.  They include Carey’s henchmen, Dodd and “Tyndale,” and members of the gang of former soldiers who rob and take Dodd prisoner.  “Jeronimo” the former Spanish ambassador’s son is among that band of disgruntled soldiers who try to take advantage of Dodd’s connection to Carey.

One lose end that bothers me is that Carey is poisoned early on in the book, and yet he spends almost no time trying to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill him and almost all of his time trying to solve the 30 year old murder case for the Queen.  At the end of the book we know that Tyndale is one of the people sent by some unknown enemy to kill Carey, and yet as far as we can tell, he has not made a move yet.  I assume that some of these loose ends will be tied up in a future book in the Sir Robert Carey series.  It just seems curious that this loose end would be left undone at the end of this book.

Elizabethan mystery lovers will love “An Air of Treason,” despite the unsettling unfinished nature of one of the plot threads.

Liz Nichols

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King’s Deception by Steve Berry

I had to wait awhile to get hold of  a copy of “The King’s Deception” at my local library.  It was worth the wait.

Berry has written a tightly wound thriller about the world of foreign espionage, but instead of the the American spy being a “good guy” he is a very bad guy.  This bad spook, Blake Antrim, is out to expose British historical secrets and in the process to steal his son back from the woman he had an affair with 16 years earlier.  He wants the kid to himself and thus has hatched a plot to kill the man this boy has always called his father, Cotton Malone, a former CIA operative who now owns a bookstore in Copenhagen.   Antrim is the head of a U.S. covert operation in Britain called the King’s Deception.  He threatens to expose that Queen Elizabeth I was actually a man, a bastard grandson of Henry VIII, who was placed in the role of impersonating the young Elizabeth when she secretly died at the age of 13, or so the legend goes.  What the CIA operative wants is for England to force the Scottish government to give up plans to send the mastermind behind the Lockerbie air disaster back to Libya in a humanitarian gesture when the man contracts terminal cancer.  Antrim is pitted against an equally cold-blooded MI6 operative who is determined to keep the rumor about Elizabeth I from ever getting any further, destroying the proof of the royal ruse, and killing anyone who knows about it.

Antrim weaves a rather complex plot to gain his recently-discovered son back by having his boss contact Cotton Malone to ask him to accompany a young man who has stolen British historical secrets back from the U.S. to London.  Malone decides to take his son back to Copenhagen with him, via London, for a Thanksgiving break.  What he doesn’t know is Antrim has designs on the boy and plans to eliminate Malone and eventually his former wife, while he is playing a blackmail game against the British.

There is a lot to “The King’s Deception” that is just plausible enough to allow the reader to get sucked in to the story instead of dismissing it out of hand.  The descriptions of iconic historical places in and around London will fascinate those who have never visited London and bring back fond memories to those who have visited many times and love London and British history.

The thriller is based around an historical legend made popular by Bram Stoker in 1910, based on very thin historical evidence purporting that Elizabeth I was actually a man in drag.  Berry invents a secret coded diary supposedly kept by Elizabeth’s close counselors, the Cecils, which is discovered and finally translated as the smoking gun that provides evidence as to the ruse behind the Elizabethan throne.  This diary is purely an invention the author uses to further his story, and is a most creative way to weave this legend into this modern-day thriller.  One might ask, who could possibly care what happened 400 years ago, but, given that so many English families divided the spoils of Ireland at that time, it is possible to see that the chain of title to a lot of real property could be clouded if the authority that originally gave those rights to many prominent English families were suddenly to be put into question.  Still, it is a pretty cynical proposition to believe that CIA and MI6 officials think historical secrets
are so important that they can justify eliminating civilian men, women and children who discover the secret as “collateral damage.”

The King’s Deception” is a quick read that is highly recommended for those who enjoy British historical themes wrapped around a modern-day espionage thriller.

Liz Nichols

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