The King’s Spy, by Andrew Swanston

Review published on October 17, 2012. Reviewed by John Redfearn

Even more unlikely is his mathematical expertise and his penchant for codebreaking. Yet more unlikely still is his sudden elevation to become the King’s most important cryptographer in the whore, soldier and sewage strewn streets of Oxford. As improbability overtops improbability he’s revealed to be a fast sprinter, good at Hazard, good in a fist fight and a sort of seventeenth century conscientious objector. He has his pockets picked, twice, and is stripped all but naked by apparent highwaymen who for some curious reason fail to search him throughly. Even when an intimate search wouldn’t have been necessary.

Although the scenes twist around a bit there’s little mystery to who did what and few surprises about what happens, when, to whom and with what outcomes. The only really interesting bits of the book are the parts describing the simple methods used at the time for encoding and decoding secret messages. The big surprise is that civil war commanders even encoded battlefield messages and commands. The big question, amid the hunt for the persons spying on the King, is who is the King’s spy. Spy is a routine and quite simply written first novel that could do with a thorough edit and a good rewrite to convert it from a sort of storyboard of a novel into a fully fledged piece of historically-set fiction.

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