cover image The Spy of Venice

The Spy of Venice

Benet Brandreth. Pegasus Crime, $25.95 (448p) ISBN 978-1-68177-798-6

What if William Shakespeare was an intelligence agent before he became a playwright? That’s the clever premise of Brandreth’s impressive first novel. In 1585, the 20-year-old William, who’s been working half-heartedly in the family glove trade, leaves Stratford-upon-Avon at the urging of his father after the discovery of his affair with a young woman, Alice Hunt, whose father, a steward to the local MP, could do him harm. William heads to London, where he becomes an actor and meets Sir Henry Carr, the English ambassador to Venice. Sir Henry, who’s embarking on a delicate diplomatic mission, is looking for actors to be part of the delegation. With his country under threat from Spain, France, and the Netherlands, he hopes that the offer of a trade deal will persuade the Venetians to ally with England. William signs on and travels to Venice, where he must contend with various perils, including Catholic assassins. Brandreth, the rhetoric coach to the Royal Shakespeare Company, plausibly and imaginatively fills a gap in the historical record of the Bard’s life. Agent: Ivan Mulcahy, MMB Creative (U.K.). (Aug.)