Marbeck and the Double Dealer
(Martin Marbeck Mysteries Book 1)
By John Pilkington
Publication Date: April 13th 2021
Publisher: Sharpe Books
Page Length: 222 Pages
Genre: Historical Mystery
In the twilight years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign the nation is at war on two fronts, and fears of a Spanish invasion are never far away.
In this febrile atmosphere, spymaster Sir Robert Cecil calls in Martin Marbeck – his best, if most undisciplined agent – to unmask a double agent who is feeding secrets to the enemy. Marbeck has been under a cloud since a failed mission in Flanders, and is eager to be on the trail.
But the traitor - codename Mulberry – proves maddeningly elusive. Soon Marbeck must leave England for France and venture into the lion’s den, following a tortuous path that winds back to London. With the help of his fellow-agent, the unruly Joseph Gifford, a trap is laid to ensnare Mulberry - with deadly and unforeseen results.
The spy network has been compromised, which means all intelligence reports could be suspect, and the nation in grave danger. So Marbeck must use all his skills to confront the secret forces of the mighty Spanish empire, which pits him against the cleverest and most ruthless opponent he has ever faced.
Mary Anne: Your fabulous novel Marbeck and the Double Dealer (Martin Marbeck Mysteries Book is in the spotlight today. Could you tell us a little about the inspiration behind your series?
John Pilkington: After researching and writing several previous Tudor series (like the Thomas the Falconer books), I became fascinated by the espionage world of the time. Queen Elizabeth’s spy service, initiated by the canny Sir Francis Walsingham, was the first official, funded intelligence network, which at its peak boasted over sixty agents and informers as far afield as Edinburgh, Tangier and Constantinople. Among them were the first ‘Cambridge Spies’, 400 years before Burgess, Philby and McClean: bright young men recruited from the universities. The best known was Christopher Marlowe, recruited around 1587. I began to wonder what life was like for these men who lived in a dangerous, twilight world.
Sir Francis Walsingham
I knew I wanted a different kind of protagonist – a risk-taker. Somehow, my government spy or ‘intelligencer’ Marbeck appeared: a skilled swordsman, from good family but unlikely to inherit, hence rootless and restless (and like me, he comes from Lancashire!). He’s patriotic and shrewd, if flawed and undisciplined - but he gets results. I warmed to him at once.
The Elizabethans were great gamblers, and I also became intrigued by this topic, along with the tricks charlatans employed to ‘cog’ (cheat) at dice and cards. I saw Marbeck in a tavern, realising he’s being cheated by a con-artist using ‘stopped’ (weighted) dice, and dealing sternly with him. The scene became the opening of Marbeck and the Double Dealer – though I didn’t know that it would be the first in a series of 4 books.
Mary Anne: What period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?
John Pilkington: In fact I’m interested in many periods and areas of history, for example the Victorians, Middle Ages, and the American West. But I tend to come back to the Tudor and Stuart eras time and again. I first came to them as a student through the drama and literature (Shakespeare, Marlowe and the rest), before getting interested in the social, political and military backgrounds. There’s so much material, from the well-trodden time of Henry VIII, through the reigns of Elizabeth, James 1st and Charles 1st, the Civil War and on to the heady days of the Restoration (the setting for two of my books, featuring actress/sleuth Betsy Brand). No matter which aspect you explore, there’s always something new to say. And it’s been fascinating – and rewarding - to create a series set in the lesser-known reign of James the First (my recent trilogy, the Justice Belstrang Mysteries).