Love's Alchemy (John Donne)
by Bryan Crockett
Review by Mel Jacob
Five Star Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781432830250
Date: 08 April 2015 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Love’s Alchemy, a literary historical mystery by Bryan Crockett, features poet John Donne, also known as Jack, as the hero. Donne, a real-life poet and courtier, disgraces himself by marrying his student Ann More, the niece of Lord Edgerton and of Lord Cecil. Anne is then disowned by Edgerton and Jack loses his position and income.
Forced to earn money where and how he can, Jack tries writing poetry to the beautiful Lady Bedford who is more interested in taking Jack to her bed than in his poetry. However, determined to remain true to Anne, Jack struggles to keep Lady Bedford at arms' length. When she suspects he has sold a love token she gave him, she decides to teach him a lesson.
Meanwhile the crafty Lord Cecil recruits Jack for a secret mission to seek out information on a possible Catholic plot against King James. The king had initially promised to allow Catholics to practice their religion undisturbed, but changed his mind. Cecil wants to locate all Jesuits in the country and execute them as well as those hiding or conspiring with them.
Lady Bedford, furious at Jack's refusal to bed her, conspires with Cecil against Jack. Originally, Jack came from a Catholic family, but turned protestant. Cecil proposes that Jack now pretend to revert to Catholicism to undertake his spying mission.
Initially dark in tone, the narrative turns into an action-thriller as Jack seeks to learn of a plot to destroy the throne and stop it. At first, it seems to be the proposed kidnapping of the young princess, but then Jack is arrested and imprisoned. He languishes for months in a dungeon cell until a Jesuit priest helps him escape.
The author provides insight into the period and the politics and schemes of Lord Cecil. At first, the writing verges on literary until Jack begins spying. Crockett uses historical personages throughout the novel and poetry fragments. At times, Jack's almost superhuman ability to survive and to fight may make some readers wonder. Crockett humanizes history and almost makes the reader sympathetic to Lord Cecil in this his first mystery. He joins other authors who have used history and real people in their period novels such as Amanda Carmack and Karen Harper.