Treason by James Jackson
The background to this historical fictional thriller is the so-called “gunpowder plot” – the attempt by Catholic conspirators to blow up James 1 and his parliament on November 5th, 1605.
Many of the real people involved feature (even Shakespeare and Ben Jonson have walk-on parts) but the main story revolves around the struggle between the fictional English spy Christian Hardy and the Spanish agent code named Realm.
Hardy is modelled on James Bond; he is familiar with the streets and alleyways of low-life London, is a consummate swordsman and manipulative in his treatment of women.
The book has few heroes (perhaps Hardy and the ill-fated Jesuit Fr Garnet) and many villains (Realm, Cecil, the king’s self-serving spymaster and enforcer, and a host of others). The focus is on the nitty-gritty of the multiple plots, and the way the narrative flips back and forth among the various protagonists increases the tension and contributes to the unrelenting pace.
James Jackson captures well the underlying violence and fetid atmosphere of the time in this absorbing read.