Book of the Month (01/04/2017)
Simon Parke's latest novel is as enjoyably readable as his Abbot Peter series, but very different.The King is the prisoner of Parliament. But the king is God’s anointed, he has the divine right to rule – how can he be subject to his subjects? Parliament, led by Cromwell, is, in its own eyes, the King’s friend. It wants him back on his throne – only without the bishops. The army meanwhile, composed largely of Levellers, despises Parliament (and bishops) and loathes the King.So the stage is set at the opening of Simon Parke’s latest book The Soldier the Gaoler the Spy and her Lover, published by Marylebone House. Charles, imperious as he will continue to be to the last, lodges where he will (within fairly loose boundaries). He eats what he will – at the considerable expense of his hosts – and surrounds himself with his preference among those allowed to attend him. Including the woman who wholly agrees with his self-image, and appears to be alone with him in that. All others, even those who had previously been wholly for him, gradually perceive the lazy, selfish, self-righteous character behind the charm and affected friendship.Jane, in addition to physically alleviating the pain of the separation from Henrietta, is the hard-working go-between in the constant attempts at escape (which he allows others to arrange on his behalf) and her network extends to Scotland and France – both viewed with merited suspicion by Charles’ enemies. As the attempts are discovered and prevented, and friends are lost, the conditions of imprisonment tighten and the year in Carisbrooke (which occupies most of the book) ends with removal to Hurst, Westminster and finally the scaffold. The author’s research has provided the reader with a tremendous fund of detail. Most characters, actions, events and some of the dialogue are historical fact. More than that, he shows his readers the essence of his characters: their thoughts, beliefs, behaviour. They walk out of the page – all the way to the executioner’s block.

Julia Taylor - Salisbury
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