Traitor's Field by Robert Wilton
|Traitor's Field by Robert Wilton|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A spy thriller set towards the end of the English Civil War. The sort of pacey novel you learn from by accident as the facts are embedded in a story that rips along. Wonderful stuff!|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: May 2013|
It's 1648 and the embers of Charles I's reign start to fade as Britain slowly turns the monotone colour of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth. However, Royalist passion still exists and it's up to Sir Mortimer Shay, the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey, to gather the intelligence, maintain his spy network and fan the embers towards the Royalist victory for which he longs. He's a wily veteran so not easily stopped but among the confusion and brutality that tears Britain in half, former lawyer Cromwell's spymaster John Thurloe is the man charged with the task.
This is the second novel from Robert Wilton, a civil servant who has been the private secretary to three Ministers of Defence and the Kosovan Prime Minister's advisor. So how would we imagine someone with these credentials writing? In a dry, slam-in-the-research way perhaps? Not a bit of it! That'll teach us to judge an author by his day job. Robert Wilton writes like a combination of Hilary Mantel, Graham Greene, Philippa Gregory and John Le Carre. On second thoughts scratch that. Robert Wilton writes like Robert Wilton providing an absorbing story, great twists and facts that sink in via osmosis rather than a sledge hammer. Indeed, he's rather excellent.
Like his first novel the Napoleonic Treason's Tide/The Emperor's Gold (depending on the version), The Traitor's Field is based on the shady Comptrollerate for Scrutiny and Survey. It's so shady in fact that, when I search-engined the now defunct government department to provide some background, only Robert Wilton's books surfaced. However, the author gives us a pretty good idea of its purpose as Sir Mortimer inveigles himself into enemy Parliamentarian circles plus motivates and amasses Royalist sympathisers while intercepting correspondence of a delicate nature while order collapses around him.
Indeed, Robert doesn't just give us a superficial rattling good yarn based on a 'what if' he relates in his introduction, his sense of time and place ensure that we're plunged into the midst of the fear and uncertainty. Even the anti-royals are worried about the resulting judgement from God that may ensue from regicide. After all, kings are ordained by God so what would happen if Charles I was removed by man? There's also no such thing as an innocent bystander. The most aloof citizen could become a mortality statistic as towns become ruins and only the sensible or stupid among humanity reveal what's in their consciences.
The author weaves fragments of contemporary documents into the story, giving the stamp of authenticity as well as insight via vignettes and pen portraits of some of the great characters who may not necessarily be the most famous. These interjections aren't to everyone's taste but for me they add morsels of further fascination during interludes in the action.
Wilton realises that we aren't there to be lectured but to follow the cat-and-mouse adversity between Shay and Thurloe so as they gather allies they would normally avoid like the plague, army councils consult prophets for advice and the Levellers create a war within a war, we're tempted further into the contextualisation and eagerly comply.
Indeed, if you're more interested in a good thriller than history, you'll still enjoy Traitor's Field. If you're into historical thrillers, welcome to all your birthdays and Christmases as, thanks to a certain high ranking civil servant, they may have just arrived all at once.
If this book appeals and you enjoy historical thrillers that slide you effortlessly into another era, try The Soldier's Story by Bryan Forbes. If on the other hand you'd like to read more about the civil war, it's one of the examples of Britain on the edge told in The Road Not Taken: How Britain narrowly missed a revolution by Frank McLynn.
You can read more book reviews or buy Traitor's Field by Robert Wilton at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Traitor's Field by Robert Wilton at Amazon.com.
Traitor's Field by Robert Wilton is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2013.
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