a second daniel book coverReviewed by Kelly Ferjutz

If you have an interest in political intrigue/turmoil in the last decade of the 1500s in London – especially the factions of Essex and Cecil — you should enjoy A Second Daniel. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly my cup of tea, and I can’t say with any certainty that I know more now than I did previously. Although it’s quite well-written, there is really little sense of place and/or time.  You could easily imagine yourself watching a Shakespearean epic on stage at a theater near you. This week or next. You know – costume drama?

There’s little by way of description, which goes a long way toward establishing time and place. The presence of horses does not necessarily a historical novel make. And this is a fairly straightforward novel. There are elements of both mystery and romance, but overall, it’s the history that takes the main stage. Alas, there are too many anachronisms for me. Why would anyone carry a pen and ink around with him when pencils were already common by this time. And so much easier and cleaner to use!

Set in 1592 in London, Noah Ames is a barrister (lawyer) with a big secret. He is Jewish, but had once captured the attention of the young Elizabeth during one of her ‘visits’ to the Tower of London, some twenty years previously. Apparently, she helped him achieve the status he now holds, although he has no real connection to her at this point. He is a widower with an adult (married) daughter. As a witness to an incident of street violence, he meets and becomes better acquainted with the victim’s widow, Marie.

Familiar historical names come and go through these pages: the Bacon brothers–Francis and Anthony; Kit Marlowe and Shakespeare; Essex, Cecil, Devereaux, Southampton, Wriothesley, Burghley, Walsingham, Neville, etc. Unfortunately, they’re mostly shadow people, as we seldom get to know any of them, much less understand why we’d want to.

Well after the half-way point of the novel, I suddenly perceived the real premise of the book. Someone asks, “Is Lord Essex in the process of converting Secretary Walsingham’s spy network to his own use, and murdering those former spies who refuse to come along?”

There are SO many people in this book, it’s really difficult to keep track of who’s who! Noah is a witty, intelligent man, but at the same time, he’s only too aware of that fact, which is somewhat grating. The widow is an interesting character, only because she’s apparently more involved with her husband’s company matters than he was. Not an easy trick in 1592! (He’s now deceased, having been murdered on the street by a Cecil adherent, as Essex has loudly let it be known, except that at that time he was in a part of the theater that had no windows!) Francis Bacon is having it on with Kit Marlowe, right out on the street, across from the widow’s home. She tells Noah that they sometimes kiss so deeply, it’s a wonder they don’t swallow each other! Really?

The author is both a lawyer and a professor of law, and it is in the courtrooms that this book finally came alive for me. I nearly gave up on it several times, but persevered to the end. I suspect that a reader who appreciates Elizabethan era history and/or courtroom dramas would be more likely to think it a ‘great read’. I’m not quite that enthusiastic, hence the 3½ stars.

First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Aurora Publicity. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.