Corgi, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
is set in the aftermath of the South Sea Bubble, which left behind a scandal with tendrils leading all the way to the German monarch of England, the Elector of Hanover himself. With a House of Commons Committee of Inquiry hot on their heels, senior members of the Company send its Green Book (detailing all its transactions) to Holland. As a courier they use a humble mapmaker, imprisoned for debt through no fault of his own.
ittle does William Spandrel know what is ahead of him - plots, counter-plots and layers of treachery unfold. Their initial result is to send him to a Dutch jail charged with the murder of the merchant to whom he delivered the dangerous Book. He is rescued by a spy, whom he accompanies in a headlong dash across Europe by horseback. A femme fatale, Estelle de Vries, wins Spandrel's allegiance (though not his trust) and embroils him in her plot to sell the information to James the Pretender in Rome.
illliam is a hopeless hero - while betrayed at every turn, he does not learn much from his experiences. While he would like to avoid the affairs of the great, he keeps getting sucked back in, as Robert Walpole builds his personal power base in government on the ruins of the South Sea Company. There is plenty of action - a murder, a duel, a kidnapping - but poor William tends to be a passive participant, more at the mercy of events than their instigator.
his was a fascinating period, in which something like the Green Book could indeed have caused a revolution and changed the course of history. Through all his adventures, after a long succession of trials and tribulations, William Spandrell does develop some backbone and eventually achieves a happier state. He engages the reader's occasional sympathy but not our admiration ... read
for the history, not for its hero.
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