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The Doublet Affair
By Fiona Buckley

Scribner, 1998 $21.00

Reviewed by J. Ashley (2/99)

The setting is the court of Elizabeth I, early in the reign. The sleuth: Ursula Blanchard, lady-in- waiting, sometime spy and skilled lock-picker, who is secretly married to an exiled Catholic. The problem: Sir William Cecil believes a Catholic family is giving support to the Scottish Queen Mary. Ursula's task: To infiltrate the house of the suspect and read his letters.

Aided by her faithful maid and manservant, Ursula travels to Berkshire to the home of old acquaintances of hers, the Masons, a Catholic family with strangely full coffers. Ursula, though longing to join her husband in France, undertakes the task of spying on Leonard Mason and looking through his documents.

She finds the task complicated by the chaos of the Mason's home, her fondness for his wife and children, the suspicions of the tutor, and Mason's affinity for making strange contraptions--his latest, a flying machine. But the seemingly innocent household holds danger: two men associated with the Masons have been murdered, and someone has already tried to lure Ursula away with the promise of seeing her beloved husband. Ursula, at first working only to receive the Queen's blessing to travel to France in spring, becomes intrigued and unnerved by the goings-on, and once again is drawn into the Queen's most private affairs.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the time of Elizabeth the First. All the historical characters appear, Elizabeth, Sir William Cecil, Dudley, and though the story is entirely fictional, it's a much more accurate portrait than the recent movie about Elizabeth. Ursula is an engaging character, and I like seeing that world through the eyes of a woman.

That said, the book is somewhat slow. If you're looking for a Dick Francis thriller, this is not it. The plot goes back and forth and around and around, and only Ursula herself holds it together. We are told over and over about certain things, but left too much in the dark about others.

Still, I liked the character enough that I'm willing to go back and read the first book (To Shield a Queen). This series was first published in England by Orion, and published in the U.S. by Scribner. I haven't seen information about the next book in the series; I'd guess it will appear in England first.

Highly recommended to those who like historical fiction.

edcom: This is the sequel to To Shield the Queen (Scribner).

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