A fascinating, although I must admit, rather dense read about female spies in the mid 1600’s. Clearly they existed, but seem to have been excluded in much of the literature that’s been written about this time, which focuses about the shenanigans that the men got up to, chasing chambermaids and plotting behind each other’s backs! So, I’ve read quite a few historical novels about royalty and the many power-struggles for power that went on, but I’ve never come across anything told from this perspective and I found it really interesting. Oh, and I love the eye-catching cover!
The story revolves around Susan Hyde, who actually did live at this time. She was the sister of Edward Hyde, who was the advisor of Charles Stuart – the king who had been forcibly deposed from his throne. She is tasked with a seemingly life-threatening job of extracting as much information as possible from John Thurloe who is Oliver Cromwell’s own spymaster. But using her feminine wiles, there are always ways to gain the information needed to advance one’s cause.
And of course, she doesn’t work alone. She’s assisted by an equally clever and cunning individual: Diana Jennings. They also have the help of Molly who’s an eager pupil in the art of undercover work. I found the term used for these female spies: “she-intelligencers” difficult to come to terms with. It sounded so ‘made up’ and fake, as to undermine the actual work that they did. These women took huge risks for a cause that they strongly believed in and that they supported, and were often not taken seriously purely because they were female. It’s true that they were able to use this to their advantage, but still, it irked me … a lot!
At times I found I was wading through the prose to sift out the story. Langman has (quite rightly so) used the language of the time so that he’s able to remain true to his plot and to keep things real, but it does prove to be difficult to get through at times and tends to weigh things down quite a bit. There’s no doubt at all that having a partner (Nadine Akkerman) who’s written non-fiction about this very subject has assisted the extremely in-depth research that has gone into this book. The detail is immersive and one can easily imagine the life that was lived in the era that’s being described, and the fear that lurked around every corner and behind every doorway. One never knew who to trust and what one could say to whom, or where loyalties lay. I found that at times I was holding my breath!
This isn’t a light read, by any means. The story may sound like it could have lighter elements but with Langman remaining true to his characters, era and plot, it is dark with a dangerous edge. A 4-star read that’s realistic and brilliantly researched.
Pete Langman is a writer, academic, cricketer and sometime rock and roll guitarist who holds a PhD on Francis Bacon (the other one) and was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease at 40. His non-fiction encompasses Cricket, Parkinson’s Disease, Music, History of Science, literature and culture, and has appeared in publications ranging from The Guardian to Guitar and Bass Magazine. He lives between Leiden and Brighton with his partner Dr. Nadine Akkerman, award-winning author of Invisible Agents, who supplies him with historical expertise and who keeps asking if they can have a cat now, please.
Thank you to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours for inviting me along for this one. Take a look at what other bloggers are saying about Killing Beauties …