This week’s First Line Friday is from Martyr by Rory Clements, a book I bought this week for 53 pence whilst I was browsing the sale books in my local Waterstones.

“Rose Downie sat on the cold cobbles, cradling a swaddled baby that was not hers.”



England is close to war. Within days the axe could fall on the neck of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Spain is already gathering a battle fleet to avenge her. Tensions in Elizabeth I’s government are at the breaking point. At the centre of the storm is John Shakespeare, chief intelligencer in the secret service of Sir Francis Walsingham. When an intercept reveals a plot to assassinate England’s “sea dragon,” Francis Drake, Shakespeare is ordered to protect him. Busy fitting out his ships on land, Drake is frighteningly vulnerable. If he dies, England will be open to invasion.

From the splendour and intrigue of the royal court to the sleek warships of Her Majesty’s Navy and the teeming brothels of Southwark, Shakespeare soon learns that nothing is as it seems …