Sacred Treason by James Forrester

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Sacred Treason by James Forrester

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Historian Ian Mortimer writes as James Forrester in this historical thriller which has (as you would expect) an exceptional sense of the time and place.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Headline Review
ISBN: 978-0755356010

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In London, in December 1563, the herald William Harley (known to everyone as Clarenceux) had no intention of becoming involved in one of the many Catholic plots against the young Queen Elizabeth, but he's unwittingly drawn into one when his friend and fellow Catholic, Henry Machyn, gives him a chronicle, telling him that it hides a secret which could cost Machyn his life. Clarenceux was sceptical until he was visited by Francis Walsingham's brutal enforcers and within a matter of a few hours he turns from a law-abiding citizen into a man on the run in search of clues which will tell him why the chronicle is so important.

If your heart sank at the thought of yet another book where a man is hounded about the countryside in search of cryptic clues then rest easy. This is not the da Vinci Code in doublet and hose. To begin with 'James Forrester' is the pen name of author and historian Ian Mortimer, one of our foremost writers on medieval England. We've been delighted to review several of his non-fiction books here on Bookbag and Sacred Treason is rich with the sort of background which comes from knowledge rather than research. You'll smell the streets of London and you'll recoil from the brutality that was a part of everyday life.

Whilst the clues themselves don't produce the most complex puzzle they certainly produce a thrilling story. Based loosely on fact (do read the author's note at the back of the book when you've finished the story) and with references to real people, the story had me on the edge of my seat on more than one occasion as Clarenceux escaped from one difficult situation after another. He's a likeable, honourable and normally peaceable man who is stung into action by the obvious injustices which are being perpetrated in the queen's name.

Occasionally it is obvious that the author is more used to writing non-fiction than fiction and this sometimes pulled me out of the story. It is, though, a minor quibble.

I don't normally advocate reading fiction as a method of learning about a particular period, but this book really is an exception as it brings sixteenth century England so vividly to life and with Ian Mortimer you are putting yourself in a safe pair of hands. Read the book, enjoy the story and be more knowledgeable at the end of it.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this period appeals to you then we can recommend anything by C J Sansom. From a century earlier you might like to try Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien.

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