Published by: Severn House
Publication Date: 30th April 2016
Received from netgalley.com in return for an honest review (as if my reviews are ever anything but painfully honest?)
Introducing Elizabethan cutpurse and adventurer Jack Blackjack in the first of a brand-new historical mystery series
January, 1554. Light-fingered Jack Blackjack knows he’s not going to have a good day when he wakes with a sore head next to a dead body in a tavern’s yard. That would be bad enough – but when he discovers what’s in the dead man’s purse, the one he’d stolen, his day is set to get much worse. The purse explains why the mysterious man with the broad-brimmed hat wants to catch him. But so does the Lord Chancellor, as does the enigmatic Henry. In fact, almost everyone seems to be after Jack Blackjack.
If it weren’t for the rebel army marching on London determined to remove Queen Mary from her throne and instal Lady Jane Grey in her place, Jack could leave the city – but with the bridge blocked and every gate manned, there’s no escape.
Instead he must try to work out who killed the man in the yard, and why. But it won’t be easy as the rebel army comes ever closer and the death toll mounts …
Poor Jack really hasn’t got a clue; I blame being bashed on the head so much.
Jack Blackjack left Whitstable because he didn’t want to spend his life making blackjacks and jugs in his father’s workshop. In London he takes to crime and is doing very nicely, thank you very much, until he gets knocked out one day in the yard behind a tavern. Unfortunately he comes to to find the bloke he’s just robbed dead and a bloody knife in his own hand. This is the start of a series of misadventures that sees him hit over the head repeatedly, threatened by a Bishop, injured in the defence of London and guarding Queen Mary. Jack is terribly confused by it all most of the time, especially when he can’t work out precisely who killed the man in the tavern and why so many people want him dead.
I really enjoyed this book; I like a good historical mystery and this one was a good one. It was easy to read, with a flowing style; details of mid-sixteenth century life were woven in to the narrative without being overwhelming and the plot has a good twist. You’ll never guess who the killer is until right at the end. It’s written from Jacks perspective, as it’s meant to be a transcript of his life story as told to a clerk, so we only know what Jack knows, and he didn’t know very much. He’s stumbling around in a mystery and ends up involved in politics. The idea of an ‘innocent’ bystander being dragged in to political intrigue is interesting, and adds another layer to the initial mystery – who killed the messenger? – and the setting, the early days of Queen Mary’s reign is, if not novel, much less worn than Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. I like his descriptions of people (especially Queen Mary) and London, the barricades during bombardment by Wyatt’s rebels and the visceral nature of fear in battle.
I’ve read a couple of Michael Jenks’ books, years ago, but I have to say I think I prefer Jack to the Templars. Next one please, Mr Jenks.