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[Review] 'The Spy of Venice' by Benet Brandreth

Not much is known about William Shakespeare's early years. He entered the stage fully matured as an actor and playwright sometime between 1585 and 1592. Where and how did he gain his intimate knowledge about the human mind, about treachery and about the higher echelons of power? We don't know. Even scholars refer to the years between 1585 and 1592 as Shakespeare's 'lost years' and it gave Benet Brandreth the perfect opportunity to write a fictional story about the bard's adventures.

Benet Brandreth calls himself a rhetoric coach and an authority on Shakespeare. He works regularly with the Royal Shakespeare Company and others on Shakespeare’s use of language. Which makes him a perfect choice to write about Shakespeare, but did he succeed?

It is the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) and a war with Catholic Spain looms (think: Armada). The powers that be decide that England needs an ally and Venice is a logical choice. The Queen’s spymaster is setting out to offer an alliance to Venice. For some illogical reason, he thinks that William Shakespeare could be used as an additional spy.

Unfortunately, Brandreth decided to let the narrative get in the way of the action. It takes an overly long time before Shakespeare does some actual spying. When the story finally moves on to Venice there's not much of a mystery left, because Brandreth has been telling us in considerable detail what the various plotters had in mind.

So, what do I think of 'The Spy of Venice'? While reading, I felt a bit like a child being led on by a parent. I had hoped that this novel would be something like a spy story by John le Carré but set in Elizabethan times. Not so.

Still, the novel is the first in a trilogy. Maybe by the next installment we can expect a better plot.

Many thanks for the review copy.

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