Rivers of Treason by K J Maitland: Packed with real history, treachery, espionage, witchcraft, and plot twists – book review –

Two years on from the treasonous Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and amidst the floods left by England’s notorious Great Frost, unrepentant Catholics are still ready to defy the laws and power of the State to kill for their forbidden beliefs.
Rivers of Treason by K J MaitlandRivers of Treason by K J Maitland
Rivers of Treason by K J Maitland

In London, as dawn breaks, King James I’s most mysterious intelligencer rides north to his home county of Yorkshire, far away from the watchful eyes of the king’s men. He’s on a secret and very personal mission... a mission which looks set to place him in the deadliest danger.

Karen Maitland, much-loved author of a string of spooky medieval mysteries but writing here as K.J. Maitland, returns with her intriguing Crown spy Daniel Pursglove – a man with a past and an uncertain future – in the third book of a thrilling historical series set in the early years of the reign of the Protestant King James I.

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Steeped in the power play of a volatile period of English history – when the paranoid King James was still living in the shadow of the daring attempt to blow up Westminster – this exciting, authentic and superbly researched series brings us both page-turning mysteries and a fascinating exploration of the dark heart of Jacobean court politics.

And in this new outing with the enigmatic Daniel, Maitland sweeps us away to the remote East Riding of Yorkshire, home to many wealthy recusant Catholics in the first decade the 17th century, before returning to the dark and shadowy underbellies of the two cities our spy knows well... London and Bristol.

As an agent for the king, Daniel Pursglove is not supposed to leave London without permission but he has heard some news which makes it imperative for him to revisit the remote Yorkshire village where he grew up.

Disguised and hopeful he won’t be recognised, he makes it back to Willitoft, the large country home of the Fairfax family where Daniel was raised under circumstances he knows little about except that he was wrenched from his mother’s arms when he was only four years old.

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The locals have little reason to trust a prying stranger and those who remember Daniel do so with contempt. But when a body is found with distinctive rope burns about the neck, Daniel immediately falls under suspicion.

On the run across the country, Daniel is pursued by a ruthless killer whose victims all share the same gallows mark. Are these the crimes of someone with a cruel personal vendetta, or has Daniel become embroiled in a bigger, and far more sinister, conspiracy?

A new river of treason is rising, threading its way like an invisible spider’s web from the fields of Yorkshire right to the heart of the King’s court... and Daniel is beginning to feel like a fly caught in a merciless trap.

Spine-tingling suspense abounds in this thrilling and breathtakingly authentic trip to the wild outer reaches of East Yorkshire... a corner of the country where the Protestant Reformation was slow to arrive, and where strangers were looked on with suspicion and fear.

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It was a time when ripples from the failed Gunpowder Plot still flowed outward from London, when superstition was rife, Catholics often faced legal injustices, and religious persecution was a constant threat.

And it’s against this political maelstrom – in which a paranoid king and his guard dog Sir Robert Cecil employ ‘eyes and spies’ on every street to root out any new religious plots – that Daniel is intent on finally meeting ghosts from his hidden past.

Maitland has the gift of bringing this past world to vivid life with her richly detailed scene-setting and masterful storytelling, enabling readers to almost smell, taste and feel the danger as our flawed and mysterious hero pursues his personal life-and-death quest in a bid to settle long-awaited scores.

Packed with real history, treachery, espionage, witchcraft, plot twists, and an entertaining glossary of 16th century words and phrases, Rivers of Treason is a dark and dazzling addition to a brilliant series.

(Headline Review, hardback, £20)

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