The Mystery/Suspense Shelf: Diane Donovan Califirnia Bookshelf and Literary Services


The Reversible Mask, an Elizabethan Spy Novel, by Loretta Goldberg

Readers of historical mysteries will appreciate the Elizabethan backdrop of The Reversible Mask, as well as its vivid portrait of 1500s life. Sir Edward Latham makes the difficult decision to turn his back on family heritage, title, and political position in favor of following the Catholic religion, traveling to continental Europe. As Europe’s religious wars rise to threaten his Protestant family in England, Latham must choose between religion, country, and family in a difficult decision that leads him to accept the role of being a spy for Queen Elizabeth.

Loretta Goldberg does an exceptional job of depicting Latham’s uncertain balance between loyalty and belief. Her ability to inject suspense and thriller components into a historical setting and then add elements of social and philosophical reflection for a broader mix of dilemmas and subjects creates a full-faceted story that nicely captures the times. Goldberg is especially adept at portraying conflicting matters of the heart that keep Latham second-guessing his decisions and their consequences. He occupies a unique and tricky position in the world that affords him many opportunities as well as unprecedented conundrums. This is as starkly portrayed as the actions that place him in jeopardy in a world of spymasters also working behind the scenes.

Both dialogue and setting are compellingly written: “Elizabeth turned in front of a gilded heraldic falcon on top of a striped pole. She eyed her spymaster without sympathy “Dour thoughts, Master Moor. Is hatred of this Dutch/Spanish truce braiding your gut? You’ll have to stop shrewing me to send English troops, the perils of which you won’t see.” From battle strategy to pirates, Spanish warships, and political manipulations, Elizabeth’s rule is shaken by spies, intelligence, and complex missions on both sides.

While readers might expect that some basic familiarity with the times is a prerequisite for enjoying this historical thriller, Goldberg provides all the background needed, winding it seamlessly into a series of encounters that test her protagonist’s resolve, religious convictions, and political savvy. Sit back and enjoy the cat-and-mouse games which play out in 1500s Europe. It’s a story that will prove as engrossing to newcomers to the times as those already well versed in its culture and setting.