Ripple by Michael C. Grumley

The fourth book in the really exciting Breakthrough Series, Ripple keeps the pace fast, the plot tight and the action going. In this book, the specially formed group overseen by Admiral Langford and operating under the radar are dispersed across oceans and continents, trying to unravel secrets left beneath the waves eons ago, and searching for another source of the remarkable biological entity they earlier found and which the Chinese and Russians sought to possess at any cost. An entity which can change the course of humanity’s future while at the same time throwing the past into question.

Once more, lives are in danger, the clock is ticking and as the group draw closer to the truth, the risks they take become even greater, the rewards if they succeed, do as well.

All along, the technology that’s allowed Alison, Deanne and their teams to communicate across species keeps learning and what it teaches the dolphins and primates is nothing compared to what these creatures are yet to teach their humans…

This series is just such a great read. Michael C. Grumley can not only write but inviting you to suspend your disbelief and douse your cynic gene, he takes you on an emotional and visceral ride that is breath-taking in scope and richly imaginative. I am utterly stunned a major publisher has not picked this guy up, but I am so grateful he keeps writing and that his following is growing. Cannot wait to read the next instalment in this series and see where he takes us, never mind his characters.

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Book review: Her Majesty’s Spymaster by Stephen Budiansky

From the moment I started reading this book, I was captivated. Budiansky has such an accessible style of writing and while he relies very heavily on the definitive biography of Walsingham for this book, the three-volume work by Conyers Read, Mr Secretary Walsingham, his style makes his retelling of Walsingham’s life exciting and, despite some of the grisly content, entertaining as well. StartingHer Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage with the St Bartholomew Day massacres in Paris (strictly speaking, the book commences on the two days before with the attempted assassination of Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France who was shot in broad daylight and only bending to tie a shoelace saved his life in this instance), we follow Walsingham’s career and the little that is known of his personal life.

Sir Francis Walsingham is often credited by many contemporary commentators and modern historians with inventing espionage as we understand it. Budiansky is no exception. He knows his subject and the era that birthed him and it’s easy to mistake a light hand and easy style with superficial research – yet, as a principle source, Conyers’ work is sound, and Budiansky is eminently readable and for those who know nothing about the intrigues of the era and Walsingham’s role or simply want reminding, this book is a terrific introduction.

Budiansky inflects his prose with wit, empathy, understanding and humorous insights, weaving records of the era with substantiated opinion. The effect of this is a non-fiction book that reads like a terrific spy-cum-historical novel. As a consequence, we learn about all the major plots that Walsingham directly foiled from the Ridolphi plot to the Throckmorton and Babington ones, but from the inside out.  But these were just vindication for Walsingham’s fierce collection of information and insistence that this was essential to protecting Elizabeth’s fledgling Protestant realm. They were also incidental in his larger schemes, which were to prove once and for all that Mary, Queen of Scots was a ‘she-devil’ plotting Elizabeth’s destruction and his quest to find evidence of the Spanish intention to invade England.  Walsingham left no stone unturned, trusted no-one (except perhaps his first son-in-law, Sir Philip Sidney), and while not popular with the queen or many of her counselors (he fell out with them all during his lifetime), there were those who respected and appreciated the personal and other sacrifices his unflinching belief in his duty and his impeccable record in carrying in it out, as Sir Francis Drake’s letter to him after the Armada was defeated attests. That Walsingham endorsed torture and double-dealing might sit uncomfortably with modern readers, but in his mind and heart, it was all done for the protection of the realm and was thus essential. He has no patience for those who didn’t understand that. The fact he succeeded in proving Mary was a traitor and helped foil the Spanish Armada in 1588, have become questionable legacies because of the way he achieved these goals.

Nonetheless, history has accorded Walsingham the importance he deserves and Budiansky’s entertaining and easy to read book allows the reader to appreciate why. Couldn’t put this down. But again, it is more an introduction and original retelling of known facts as opposed to shedding new light on a mysterious and compelling historical figure.

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Book Review: The Watchers, by Stephen Alford

Sent The Watchers, A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth Ist,  by the publishers, I really looked forward to reading what’s ostensibly a behind the scenes account of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign but from the point of view of the “watchers”: that is, reporters, listeners, spies – the men whose speciality was espionage. Elizabethan times, it turns out, are notorious for their extensive use of spies and networks, all of which were established to protect England and ensure the queen’s successful reign. As Alford writes in the introduction, while Elizabeth and her council worked hard to maintain “clever and persuasive projections of political stability, empire, self-confidence and national myth” there was, in fact, “a darker story… set against a Europe divided and oppressed by religious conflict, cThe Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth Iivil war and the ambitions of kings and princes.”

Taking the crown after her half-sister “Bloody Mary” tried to purge the Protestant stain, and trying to stabilise an England divided by religious schism and rapidly changing succession, Elizabeth’s job was not easy. Declaring England as Protestant, but claiming that Catholicism would be tolerated, Elizabeth nonetheless was acutely aware of how precarious her position as ruler and religious head of a reeling nation was. Plots to declare her rule invalid, assassination attempts, never mind trying to overthrow Elizabeth and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne abounded. Then there was the job of trying to find Elizabeth a suitable husband, all of which meant that though the kingdom flourished in terms of exploration, the humanities and arts, there was also a seething underbelly that threatened to erupt and destroy everything at any time. The greatest threat was that of the Catholics who, discontent with Elizabeth’s heretical leadership and perceiving it as ungodly, sought to rid themselves of Henry VIII’s daughter and restore the “true religion”. Working from within their homeland, their overseas networks were extensive, travelling across Europe and involving some of the most powerful people abroad as well.

The stage is thus set for espionage, betrayal, treason, propaganda, secrets, torture, faith, martyrdom and lies all of which Sir Francis Walsingham and his successors sought to control.

Carefully researched and very well-written, this book is an eye-opener that also makes the mind boggle. The lengths to which various individuals would go to inveigle themselves into (Catholic) families or communities in order to uncover plots and treasons were phenomenal. Conspirators were discovered frequently, many from noble families. The Throckmorton plot was one of the most famous and this is covered in detail throughout the book. Fascinating in its complexity and the degree of commitment and sacrifice believers were ready to make, uncovering it was to prove an even greater triumph.

The book goes onto explore the stories, derring-do, successes and failures of many spies and traitors, how far they were willing to go (disguise, denying their identities for long periods, sacrificing family and a “normal” life for little reward) and from these we also learn how disposed Walsingham and his men were to use torture to uncover secrets and plots and how brutal their interrogation methods were. Some of the spies, or intelligencers, were gentleman and even poets, others were criminals, but many were chameleons, able to shift, camouflage themselves and change with subtlety. There was William Parry, Thomas Phelippes, Gilbery Gifford, Chrales Sledd, Sir Robert Cecil, Burghley, simply to name a few (forgive my memory) – names both known and unknown to history buffs. Perhaps, for those names less familiar, it’s testimony to how well they performed their roles – they disappeared not simply into the woodwork, but became lost in the pages of history and time until Alford recovers them. Uncovering the plots and deeds of desperate men, these watchers brought many to trial and death and, in doing so, ensured Elizabeth’s long reign.

Utilising surviving records, Alford has done an amazing job and recreated in detail a tumultuous but fascinating period. Almost akin to a Renaissance version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I found this book fascinating, challenging (to keep track of the different names and roles), but also a wonderful insight into what occurs behind the doors, under the tables and in the shadows and whispers of a colourful and deceptively confidant queen’s reign. Like an ice-berg, it was the seven-eights we didn’t see that ensured the topmost part remained afloat. Alford has given us access to that which we don’t normally witness and exposed the intricacy and deadly seriousness of spying in Elizabethan times.

A great read for history buffs, writers, anyone who loves tales of espionage and appreciates solid research delivered in an entertaining and engaging manner.



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