- Andrew Swanston
Publisher: Bantam PressSummer, 1643. England is at war with itself. King Charles I has fled London, his negotiations with Parliament in tatters. The country is consumed by bloodshed. For Thomas Hill, a man of letters quietly running a bookshop in the rural town of Romsey, knowledge of the war is limited to the rumours that reach the local inn. When a stranger knocks on his door one night and informs him that the king's cryptographer has died, everything changes. Aware of Thomas's background as a mathematician and his expertise incodes and ciphers, the king has summoned him to his court in Oxford. On arrival, Thomas soon discovers that nothing at court is straightforward. There is evidence of a traitor in their midst. Brutal murder follows brutal murder. And when a vital message encrypted with a notoriously unbreakable code is intercepted, he must decipher it to reveal the king's betrayer and prevent the violent death that failure will surely bring.
Set near the start of the English War in 1643, The King Spy find bookseller and mathematician Thomas Hill asked to come to the Royalist court in Oxford by his old professor and ends up caught in the political intrigue of codes and ciphers. The Civil War is a period of history I’m not overly familiar with – other than that it was between the King and his loyal royalists and Parliament and the cavaliers. While Thomas Hill is working for the royalists and the king, this seems to be because more through default rather than any great loyalty or belief in the cause. The court seems decadent and unsympathetic in the extreme, still throwing lavish balls and masques for its own entertain while draining Oxford dry of its resources.
However, Thomas Hill is a clever man and one who generally hates violence avoiding it were he can and hoping to save as many lives as possible through his work and bring the war to a quick close. He is an easy man to like – although I didn’t manage to really feel a deep emotional connection to him. He spends a lot of time on his own figuring out ciphers, which slows the pace down even if it is still interesting. Thomas’s walks around Oxford are how we really get to see what impact the war has had on the ordinary people and where the descriptions come to life.
The intrigue is well done, but because Thomas doesn’t meet a lot of people it’s easy to guess what will happen making me wish for an unexpected twist or shake up in the final few pages. Overall, though this is a fun read – and considering the Civil War lasted until 1651, there is plenty of scope of sequels!
Recommended for fans of Margaret George and Ariana Franklin. 7 out of 10