England in 1572 is a powder keg of rumour, fanaticism, treachery and dissent. All it would take is a single spark . . .
In the England of Elizabeth I, the fear of plague and invasion, and the threat of insurrection are constant. As the Earl of Leicester's chief intelligencer, lawyer Dr Christopher Radcliff is tasked with investigating rumours of treachery at home and the papist threat from abroad. And with heresy and religious unrest simmering beneath the surface of a country on the brink, Radcliff is under pressure to get results.
Then two brutal and seemingly motiveless killings point alert Radcliff to the whisper of a new plot against the queen. There are few clues, and all he and his network of agents have to go on is a single word: incendium. But what does it mean - and who lies behind it? Christopher Radcliff must find out before it's too late . . .
The King's Spy
Summer, 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 in codes 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.
The King's Exile
Spring, 1648. Thomas Hill, a bookseller living in rural Hampshire, publishes a political pamphlet he has little idea of the trouble that will follow. He is quickly arrested, forced on a boat to Barbados and condemned to life as a slave to two of the island’s most notoriously violent brothers.
In England war has erupted again, with London under threat of attack. When news of the king’s execution reaches the island, political stability is threatened and a fleet commanded by Sir George Ayscue arrives to take control of the island for Cromwell. The threat of violence increases. Thomas finds himself witness to abuse, poison, rape and savage brutality.
When a coded message from Ayscue to a sympathiser on the island is intercepted, Thomas is asked to decipher it. A disastrous battle seems inevitable. But nothing turns out as planned. And as the death toll mounts, the escape Thomas has been relying on seems ever more unlikely…
The King's Return
Spring 1661: After years of civil war followed by Oliver Cromwell's joyless rule as Lord Protector, England awaits the coronation of King Charles II. The mood in London is one of relief and hope for a better future.
But when two respectable gentlemen are found in a foul lane with their throats cut, it becomes apparent that England’s enemies are using the newly re-established post office for their own ends. There are traitors at work and plans to overthrow the king. Another war is possible.
Thomas Hill, in London visiting friends, is approached by the king’s security advisor and asked to take charge of deciphering coded letters intercepted by the post office. As the body count rises and the killer starts preying on women, the action draws closer to Thomas – and his loved ones. He finds himself dragged into the hunt for the traitors and the murderer, but will he find them before it’s too late?
Waterloo: The Bravest Man
June, 1815. The Coldstream Guards and the third guards are waiting impatiently for orders to move into battle against Napoleon and his French army. Every day seems endless as the troops wait for Wellington's orders.
When word is finally received, the path to glory it is not quite what the troops were hoping for. Hours of marching during the day are followed by restless nights’ sleep in the rain, dampening their spirits and weakening morale.
When the group eventually encounter the French in battle, a special command comes from Wellington himself to Colonel James Macdonell of the Coldstream Guards: hold the chateau at Hougoumont and do not let the French pass. What happens next is history.
History is brought alive by the people it affects, rather than those who created it.
In Beautiful Star we meet Eilmer, a monk in 1010 with Icarus-like dreams; Charles I, hiding in 1651, and befriended by a small boy; the trial of Jane Wenham, witch of Walkern, seen through the eyes of her grand-daughter.
This is a moving and affecting journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875.
Cambridge 1569. Christopher Radcliff, Doctor of Civil Laws at Pembroke Hall and recruiter of clever young men to the service of the Earl of Leicester, is amongst an excited crowd gathered on a field to watch a game of foot ball between the apprentices of the town and pupils of the colleges. It is hoped it will reconcile differences between town and gown. Bets are placed, wagers made.
On the field long-standing animosities surface and violence breaks out but not before the college team is victorious, thanks to the skill of a Pembroke Hall man, John Groom. Later, John Groom is locked up on a serious charge of assault – he’d nearly caused a cobbler’s apprentice to drown. If found guilty, Groom will be expelled from college and face imprisonment. But Christopher believes the charge to be the fabrication of someone with a serious grudge against the young man, but it does seem as if Groom is hiding something. Radcliff knows the truth lies somewhere within the infamous den that is Slegge’s gaming house…