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The Intelligencer    by Leslie Silbert Amazon.com order for
Intelligencer
by Leslie Silbert
Order:  USA  Can
Atria, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Leslie Silbert's first book, The Intelligencer, has garnered glowing reviews. It has all the key ingredients of a thriller - attractive protagonist, fast pace, complex plot and scenes set among the rich, famous (and of course glamorous) of the world in New York, London and Rome. There are actually two protagonists. Kate Morgan is a beautiful young former Renaissance history student, who now works for an elite private investigation agency with links to US government intelligence agencies. Then there is Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan playwright and poet who also worked as a spy or Intelligencer for Queen Elizabeth's secretary of state, Frances Walsingham, and his successors.

In the present day, Kate's company is hired to look into the origins of a mysterious late 16th century book written in code, recently stolen from the home of wealthy London financier Cidro Medina. From the beginning Kate suspects the writings are from the 1590s when spying between various factions in Queen Elizabeth's government was in high gear. Readers will enjoy seeing how she uses her scholarly and code-breaking skills to ferret out the details of the manuscript entitled 'Anatomy of Secrets'. But Marlowe is actually the more interesting character in the book. In 1593 he is busy working on a new play and working for Robert Devereux, Lord Essex. The latter is Elizabeth's favorite, vying bitterly with Sir Robert Cecil to be appointed Walsingham's successor as secretary of state. Elizabethan politics and double-crossing alliances make modern politics seem simple. Marlowe excels at playing one party against another, at least for a while.

Kate soon suspects that Marlowe is somehow involved in the writings in the manuscript which appear to be intelligence reports gathered by him or one of the other Elizabethan spies. She has admired the fascinating Marlowe since her Oxford days for his ability to 'stroll back and forth between the world of letters and the covert underworld. But beyond relying on for professional inspiration, Kate felt that Marlowe was something of a kindred spirit'. Having survived her fiancÚ's loss in a tragic accident, she 'was drawn to Marlowe's tragic heroes, all of whom were doomed by an irrepressible desire for the unattainable'. As Kate investigates the manuscript, she moves from her home base in New York to London, and on to the Vatican and a potential new client, Luca de Tolomei. The action moves as fast as it does in the Da Vinci Code, which this thriller resembles in many ways. Both move at breakneck pace between scenes, requiring the reader to stay clear-witted and pay attention to details. Their strengths are in plots, whose modern sections are especially action-oriented.

The Intelligencer does pay a bit more attention to setting for the Elizabethan portion, and one gets a satisfying sense of the complexities of life in those times. There was deadly rivalry between Protestant and Catholic factions, turmoil caused by the recent immigration of Protestants from Europe, and the ongoing threat of the plague. Silbert obviously loves this period of history and spends time drawing out various personalities and hangers-on in Elizabeth's circle (one wishes she had spent more time developing her modern day personalities, who are somewhat stock characters - gorgeous private eye Kate, her flamboyant friend Adriana and her sleazy admirer Medina). By the end, the intertwined modern and historical plots are solved in a very satisfying manner, but Kate's personal life is left hanging. I hope that Silbert will develop her more fully next time.

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