In a world made for men, Susan Hyde is no ordinary woman. And no one would suspect that the sister of Edward Hyde, chief advisor to King in exile Charles Stuart, spends her time peddling state secrets and fomenting rebellion rather than on her tapestry. As a she-intelligencer – female spy – Susan’s mission is to extract information from Oliver Cromwell’s unsuspecting spymaster, by any means necessary. In a shadow-world of ciphers, surveillance, poison, seduction and duplicity, this daring spy will risk everything for king and country. Based on the astonishing true story of England’s earliest female spies, Killing Beauties will transport you to a seventeenth-century London rife with political intrigue, betrayal and conspiracy.
I’m delighted today to welcome author Pete Langman to Booksaremycwtches with an extract from Killing Beauties.
After the incident on birdcage walk, as he would later refer to it, Jonny and Nathaniel walked through the city at a sedate pace. While Jonny had been Field’s apprentice for almost nine years now, he could count the times he had been allowed out of the print shop on the fingers of, well, if not one hand, most definitely five or six hands. Jonny still retained a little of the wide-eyed country boy he had been at the age of eight when he had not only been orphaned but given to Field within a matter of weeks. He hardly knew his father other than that he had died serving the cause of freedom, while his mother was never talked of. Jonny really had no idea whether she was alive or not. Before his father’s death, however, Jonny had at least been well educated, and already possessed a decent grasp of the classical languages, a grasp he had transformed into a very solid understanding by reading everything that passed through Field’s presses. Jonny had been to Venice with Coryat, Newfoundland with Hakluyt, and even sailed to Atlantis with Bacon. His knowledge of the city in which he lived was minimal, however, and as for his home town, he knew it not. And so as they walked, Jonny stared.
‘Right,’ said Nathaniel. ‘The Three Suns. You’ll find Isaac in there somewhere. I’m off to play dice for a lady.’
‘Dice?’ said Jonny, stung into a confused response.
‘Don’t worry, Jonny,’ he said. ‘I speak in jest. Dice are a challenge to God’s providence, and have been banned, as well you know.’ And with that, Nathaniel was gone.
Jonny was not used to taverns, though his old friend Jim, a journeyman for Field, was known to spend much of his leisure time at one called the Mermaid, just off Butcher’s Row. In less guarded moments Jim had let slip that he was sweet on the innkeeper, who was part Spanish, or something. Jonny summoned up the courage and strode inside. He saw Isaac immediately, asleep on a table. He shook him by the shoulders to wake him.
‘Isaac, Isaac?’ said Jonny. ‘Wake up. Isaac?’
‘What? Oh, Jonny, sorry. I’m really no drinker. It sends me right off. We should get back to the chamber. But first, if you’ll excuse me.’ Isaac stood and ambled in the direction of the privy.
‘Ah, Jonny,’ said Isaac, as he returned to the table. ‘That’s better. Let’s go and see the chamber, eh?’ And with that he led Jonny out of the tavern.
They walked through the narrow streets, blinking in the brightness of the late afternoon sun, their eyes having grown accustomed to the tavern’s dingy interior. The Three Suns was one of London’s dingiest taverns, and this in a field in which competition was fierce. They had gone a few streets before Jonny realised that he had no idea where he was going, or what he was going to do when he got there. Where he was going to live. How to get food. The more he contemplated his situation the more he felt that Field wasn’t so bad.
‘I bet you’re glad to get out of Field’s clutches,’ said Isaac. ‘I’m glad that Nathaniel persuaded him to release you, Jonny. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun, you and I.’
‘He certainly was extremely persuasive,’ said Jonny. ‘I didn’t know indentures could be revoked.’
‘Neither did I. It’s a strange new world in which we live, Jonny.’
‘He mentioned a chamber. What is it? It sounds awfully macabre.’
‘Ah, the chamber is where we unravel the secrets of men’s hearts, where we dip our pens into men’s lives, where we enfold ourselves and thus may overhear their most private conversations,’ said Isaac, drifting off into his thoughts to such an extent that Jonny was forced to take his arm in order that he might prevent him from walking under a horse and cart that were trotting along gently in the opposite direction.
‘It sounds awfully like a torture chamber,’ said Jonny, ‘and I’m pretty certain that’s no place for me. Or for you, Isaac. You belong in the republic of letters, lording it over Latin and Greek, harrying hands and capturing cipher.’
‘Well, you’ll see soon enough.’ With this, he removed a key from some inner part of his garments and walked towards a small door set in the wall they’d been walking alongside for the past few hundred yards. The door yielded to his touch and they entered the courtyard. Having locked away the outside world they walked a few, short steps to a stairway, and thence to another door, though this one needed no key, it just swung open. Isaac held out his arm. ‘Behold, the Black Chamber.’
Jonny looked into the room and smiled. ‘Well, Isaac, I have to hand it to you. I couldn’t have come up with a better name myself.’
Isaac pushed him aside. ‘Imagination, Jonny. Use your imagination.’
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About the author
Pete Langman is an editor, academic, cricketer and sometime rock and roll guitarist who holds a PhD on Francis Bacon (the other one) and was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease at 40. His non-fiction encompasses Cricket, Parkinson’s Disease, Music, History of Science, literature and culture, and has appeared in publications ranging from The Guardian to Guitar and Bass Magazine. He lives between Leiden and Brighton with his partner Dr. Nadine Akkerman, award-winning author of Invisible Agents, who supplies him with extra historical expertise and keeps asking if they can have a cat now, please.
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