Traitor's Field, Hardback Book
4.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


It is 1648 and Britain is at war with itself. The Royalists are defeated but Parliament is in turmoil, its power weakened by internal discord. Royalism's last hope is Sir Mortimer Shay, a ruthless veteran of decades of intrigue who must rebuild a credible threat to Cromwell's rule, whatever the cost. John Thurloe is a young official in Cromwell's service.

Confronted by the extent of the Royalists' secret intelligence network, he will have to fight the true power reaching into every corner of society: the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 9781848878198



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Covering a period of roughly three years, from the aftermath of the Battle of Preston in 1648 to the escape of the young King Charles II in 1651, this novel focuses on two very different personalities: Sir Mortimer Shay, a staunch Royalist and veteran of thirty years of war on the continent, who assumes the role of fixer for the monarchist cause and tries to rebuild the opposition to Cromwell's Parliamentary Army; and John Thurloe, a clerk in the Parliamentarian ranks, who shows his intelligence and capability during the course of the war and thus increasingly finds himself within Cromwell's trusted circle and eventually chief intelligencer of the regime.Every once in a while a book comes along that lets you forget that you're an impassive, outside observer and transports you right into the atmosphere of the book, leaving your body behind and not aware that you're still having to turn the pages to make the plot progress, everything appearing so real that you can hear, see, smell and feel what the author is describing to you; this is one of those books. Robert Wilton's prose is eloquent and atmospheric, his descriptions evocative and dynamic - occasionally even urgent when the action demands it (the literary equivalent of a car chase in a film) - the plotting intricate and tense, and this novel completely absorbing and gripping. In a different take on the historical novel, the author has constructed the narrative around the framework of genuine authentic documents from the period, thus adding credibility to the fictionalised characters and plot strands and seemingly confirming events as described in the book. The old-fashioned fonts used in some of these news sheets, pamphlets and letters add to the authenticity, but occasionally make reading them a challenge.The novel's structure is complex and it takes a while to get used to it, the narrative jumping from one scenery and character to the next, often barely allowing the reader to catch their breath before the plot is moved elsewhere, and at first it's not always clear whether the paragraph portrays the Royalists or the Roundheads until you've become more acquainted with the principal names; a cast of characters in the prelims would have been helpful, as I had to leaf back on several occasions to find the context in which the name had previously been mentioned. I didn't mind as I think this device will keep the reader alert, guessing and on their toes, and the narrative restless and dynamic, but others might feel that this is disrupting the flow too much. The novel features a mixture of historic and fictitious characters, all of them imbued with life, yet to me it is the person of Charles I who stands out most clearly; with such a small part to play in the novel, he makes an extraordinarily vivid impression, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. As the action moves to Ireland, the siege of Drogheda is portrayed in all its breathtaking and terrifying chaos and noise, an outstanding piece of descriptive writing. John Thurloe's progression from a clerk standing on the sidelines to becoming someone in the trappings of intelligence, making life-or-death decisions and influencing the course of history, appears entirely natural, driven by his intelligence and curiosity, but also afflicted by occasions of self-doubt.Unfortunately Robert Wilton doesn't quite manage to sustain the high quality of the plotting all the way through, and, in the final stages, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed: Thurloe's actions towards the end of the book seem too out of character to me, and the final revelations relating to the identity of the traitor stretch credibility just a little too far in my opinion, so that I can't really justify awarding this book five stars: four and a half feels entirely deserved.In the foreword, the author hopes that the novel will inspire the reader to make their own investigations into the facts described, and I will certainly do some background reading involving the (real-life) character of John Thurloe and the English Civil War, but unfortunately he didn't feel it necessary to supply some additional historical notes, which would surely have added merit to an already excellent novel.(This review was originally written as part of Amazon's Vine programme.)