The Queen's Devil by Paul Walker
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Publication date: 27 July 2020
Publisher: Sharpe’s Books
Print Length: 274 pages
Series: William Constable Spy Thriller, Book #3
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Thriller



William Constable, recently married astrologer and mathematician, has settled into routine work as a physician when he is requested to attend two prisoners in the Tower of London. Both are accused of separate acts treason, but their backgrounds

suggest there may be a connection.

Sir Francis Walsingham and Lord Burghley urge William to discover further intelligence from the prisoners while tending their injuries from torture.

The agent's investigations lead him to the French Embassy, which lies at the heart of a conspiracy which threatens the nation.

Through his enquiries, an unsuspecting William becomes entangled in a perilous web of politicking and religious fervour.

The threat comes from one the most powerful men in the English court – one referred to as the Queen’s Devil.

William faces a race against time to unpick these ties, climaxing in a daring raid on the Embassy.



A large man, broad-shouldered and grim-faced beneath his cowl, leads his horse on a long rein through the streets in the northern edges of London town. His woollen cloak is heavy and sodden from rain that began as a drizzle in the village of Edgware and gathers spite with each new stride. His purpose is all-consuming, and his eyes stare ahead with a dark intensity that signal his determination. He mutters constantly and from time to time lifts his head and blares loud into the spitting grey skies as though to reinforce his resolution. Those he passes on his journey, recoil and step aside, lest the possession of this madman should infect them.

He arrives at a crossing to the River Fleet and, for the first time since his departure from the county of Warwick, hesitates. Quiet and still, he looks this way and that, considering his next move with care. He is close to his objective, and the enormity of his plan wheedles its way into his thoughts, bringing a thread of uncertainty. Scattered whispers advise caution. A rough shake of the head and warning growl dispels them. He must be bold and see this through to the end. The horse steps through a dark slop and nuzzles his back, unaware of his master’s scheming. Taking this as a sign of encouragement and shared resolution, he moves forward and crosses the narrow bridge with an exclamation of, ‘Onward to justice and death.’ His spirits are roused once more with focus and is too constricted to see those who cringe and cling to the sides allowing him uninterrupted passage. There is another, unnoticed, who follows at a safe distance, shadowing every move of his fearsome and raving progress.

It is late in the afternoon, and the blackening skies hold no promise of relief. There is an inn on Long Lane; an inn like many others he has passed, but this one beckons him inside to take refuge and warmth; to take stock and renew his resolve. He hands his horse to a stable lad, hefts a leather bag and enters the inn. There, he pauses for a moment to take in the flickering lights; the chatter and hum; the mingling of faces. He strides towards an open fire, drops his bag, removes his cloak and stamps his muddy boots on the straw. His clothes mark him as a man of status and wealth. A leather jerkin is trimmed with fur around the neck and his black doublet embroidered with silver thread. But it is the heavy pistol slung around his shoulder, and the long sword with dagger sheathed at his waist that catches the eye of those closest to him. Their conversation is stilled as they gape at this soldierly figure and wonder at his intentions. He turns his head quickly, senses pricked by the sudden quiet at his back.

‘What is it?’ he challenges.

There is no answer. The quiet spreads, and those further away strain to see the cause of this interruption to the commonplace babble. A serving maid swivels away from groping hands and steps forward.

‘What is your pleasure… sir?’

He looks at her, gazes around the unfamiliar faces, unhooks the pistol from his shoulder, places it on a stool and replies, ‘A pot of ale.’ Then as an afterthought adds, ‘and bring me bread and cheese to this table by the hearth.’

Conversation returns, but slowly and in subdued tones. The stranger stretches, flexes his shoulders and stands in front of the fire until he feels the chill lift from his bones. With his belt unbuckled, he rests his weapons on the table with extravagant care and takes a seat. He has the table to himself now. Others who rested there have taken up their ale and moved to more discreet corners. He adjusts his position to gain a better view of the interior and surveys the scene before him. There are about fifty persons in the inn: tradesmen; artisans; working men; and a handful of maids or doxies. A grunt and loosening of his limbs suggest he is satisfied, there is nothing unusual or out of place in his view. He meets the eye of an old man staring at him with open mouth, gestures with both hands and says, ‘Wet,’ by way of explaining his presence.

The maid brings his refreshment, places it on the table, bobs her head and before she can retreat, a raised hand bids her wait. He takes the pot of ale, drains it quickly and passes it back for another. A rough tearing of the bread and hurried devouring of food tells of his hunger. The unease in the air melts by degrees, and the inn returns to its former level of activity as though watchers are satisfied he is no monster, but a man of flesh and blood with normal appetites.

Muttering returns with more ale. His head is bowed with narrow focus as he struggles to remain absorbed and single-minded. There is no room for creeping doubt. Whenever he senses the sly fingers of logic draw him back, or pauses at the prospect of danger, he utters fierce words to dispel black thoughts.

The cup is empty. He lifts his head, appearing surprised to find he is not alone and unsure how long he has rested in this place. The inn has filled, and one man has joined his table. He narrows his eyes and considers this intruder into his private space. The face before him is framed with a short, dark beard and black velvet cap. Dress and bearing indicate a man of some consequence. Does he know him? There is a familiarity in his features, but faint and too far off to grasp any form of recognition.

‘Do I know you, sir?’ His words are more forceful than he intended, so he compensates it with a tilt of the head and a forced smile.

The man he addresses is slow to react and chooses not to answer the question. ‘You appear troubled, with strong words suggesting a disturbance in your affairs.’

‘Words?’ He pauses, surprised by the directness of the response. ‘No… no, it is a simple matter of the heart I contemplate. Forgive me if my muddled discourse offended. I was not aware of your near presence.’

‘Ah yes, the affections of a lady can lead to a fevered mind.’ He moves closer, rests his elbows on the table and steeples his fingers. ‘Yet, the words, “Majesty” and “Death” were clearly spoken by you on more than one occasion.’

He recoils, offended by the manner of this accusation. His mouth is open, ready to offer denial when both his arms are grabbed from behind and his head wrenched back by a brutal tug of hair. Cold steel is at his throat. He is undone. But how? Who are they and how many? He cannot fight them; tied fast by strong hands with ropes. He twists and strains against cords that pain his arms which are pinned behind in unnatural positions.

At last, he is secured. He stares wild-eyed at his captors with breathing quick and shallow. Four men surround him - hard, pitiless men who display grim satisfaction at the ease with which they have surprised and taken their prey. The man at his table sits unmoved, gazing at his victim with an expression that mixes pleasure and disdain. He lets these moments linger, seeming to delight at the way his victim has been stunned into silence then says, ‘You are John Somerville from the county of Warwick?’

The captured man swallows and nods his head slowly with eyes fixed on his questioner. ‘Who… who are…’

‘I am Sir Peter Gibbyn with a royal warrant for your arrest and examination.’ He picks up a paper between thumb and forefinger, then lets it fall to the table. ‘You have spread evil words and spilt bile against Her Majesty throughout your journey to this place. Your boasting and swagger condemn you as a follower of Rome and conspirator to bring mortal harm to our sovereign. I rejoice in your arraignment and the prospect of the cruel and bloody death that awaits you.’

‘No… no, it is not as you say. You misunderstand my…’

‘There can be no misunderstanding, and your mouth must be stopped before it can spout more filth.’

Gibbyn delves into a bag, brings out a device and places it on the table. It is an odd contraption with a hinged iron framework and leather straps; not unlike a horse’s bridle with a severe bit, but smaller. He is bewildered for a few moments; then his body sags as he recognises an apparatus used against witches and gossips. They mean to clamp his head and prick his tongue so he cannot talk. His torture has begun.

Praise for Paul Walker

“Walker skilfully creates a treacherous world of half-truths, plots and duplicity... simmering with impending danger.” Michael Ward, author of Rags of Time.

"A gripping and evocative page-turner that vibrantly brings Elizabeth's London to life." Steven Veerapen, author of A Dangerous Trade.

"Full of convincing characters both historical and imagined." Peter Tonkin

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Meet the Author

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first two books in the series - State of Treason and A Necessary Killing - were published in 2019. The third book, titled The Queen's Devil, was published in the summer of 2020.

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