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The Intelligencer by Leslie Silbert

The Intelligencer (2004)

by Leslie Silbert

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5601828,371 (3.15)28
"On May 30, 1593, London's most popular playwright was stabbed to death. The royal coroner ruled that Christopher Marlowe was killed in self-defense, but historians have long suspected otherwise, given his role as an "intelligencer" in the queen's secret service." "In sixteenth-century London, Marlowe embarks on his final intelligence assignment, hoping to find his missing muse, as well as the culprits behind a high-stakes smuggling scheme." "In present-day New York, grad student turned private eye Kate Morgan is called in on an urgent matter. One of her firm's top clients, a London-based financier, has chanced upon a mysterious manuscript that had been buried for centuries - one that someone, somewhere is desperate to steal. What secret lurks in those yellowed, ciphered pages? And how, so many years later, could it drive someone to kill?" "As Kate sets off for England, she receives a second assignment. An enigmatic art dealer has made an eleven-million-dollar purchase from an Iranian intelligence officer. Is it a black-market antiquities deal, or something far more sinister? Like Marlowe, Kate moonlights as a spy - her P.I. firm doubles as an off-the-books U.S. Intelligence unit - and she is soon caught like a pawn in a deadly international game. As the Intelligencer's interlocking narratives race toward a stunning collision, and Kate closes in on the truth behind Marlowe's sudden death, it becomes clear that she may have sealed a similar fate for herself."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved… (more)
  1. 00
    Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell (Caramellunacy)
    Caramellunacy: Literary thrillers in a similar vein - The Intelligencer is a dual timeline plot surrounding Christopher Marlowe's spy activities; Interred with Their Bones is about the search for a lost Shakespeare manuscript (and the author's identity) while the main character is being chased by a murderer reenacting Shakespeare's death scenes. Both are fun action-packed thrillers.… (more)

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Having just returned from London, and seeing The Secret Agent (a play about Sir Francis Walsingham and Elizabeth I) at the Globe Theater Complex, and having just finished reading The Queen's Agent (a bio of Walsingham), I was excited to revisit The Intelligencer, a novel of Christopher Marlowe, which I'd last read in 2005.

Marlowe was a contemporary of Walsingham as well as Shakespeare, and was in addition a spy for the Elizabethan crown, it's generally accepted that he was in Walsingham's pay. Although by the time of The Intelligencer, Walsingham is dead and Sir Robert Cecil, Lord Burghley, and his son, are mostly in charge of the Elizabethan spy apparatus.

The Intelligencer is a two-timeline mystery, pairing Marlowe's exploits and life with the adventures of Kate Morgan, a private investigator, who in fact works for a CIA front organization. The common thread is the discovery of a book containing Walsingham's most valuable secrets. In Marlowe's time, the hunt for the book is on. When a modern day researcher discovers the book, events are set in motion linking the two timelines.

The Intelligencer is good fun if you are at all interested in Elizabethan times, especially in regards the theater or the spy world or both. It's readily accessible, although having just read The Queen's Agent, a biography of Walsingham, I was well prepared for the historical side of it. Best of all, since I'd read it 12 years ago, I'd forgotten the ending and the bad guy for most of the book, so it was a good read the second time too! ( )
  viking2917 | Dec 11, 2017 |
There's a 16th-century manuscript/compilation in this novel called The Anatomy of Secrets, and really it's the maguffin that holds the whole plot together. My bet is that Silbert originally called her novel The Anatomy of Secrets, but then some bright spark changed the title.

Speculation, of course. This is one of those novels where there are two parallel narrative strands, one relating derring-do going on in the historical past while the other concerns itself with derring-do going on in the present. The central figure of the "history" strand is Christopher Marlowe; major supporting cast members include Francis Walsingham. On the face of it, The Intelligencer would seem to be a novel designed with precisely me in mind.

Reader, my fingers trembled as I opened it.

And of course I was disappointed; but I was surprised by just quite how disappointed I was. The book isn't extraordinarily bad — please don't get that impression. It's just, well, flat. Silbert writes with the earnest worthiness of someone who's subscribed to one or two creative-writing correspondence courses too many. The result is that, while the words seem all to be there and in roughly the correct order, there's no conviction at all in the telling of her tale. I never caught a single whiff of 16th-century London, nor even of modern London and New York City, where the "present-day" strand is located.

It was a terrible pity, because Silbert clearly did her research and had lots of interesting ingredients to throw into the stewpot. Maybe it'll all work better next time. ( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
There's a certain kind of novel that I like to blame on the Indiana Jones franchise. It appeals to academics and hobbyists who dabble in and become experts in little pockets of knowledge that, frankly, the rest of the world just doesn't give a damn about. They know their stuff, they've read their books, they're ready for the pop quiz--but it's a quiz that's never coming. All that's left is to sit back amongst one's dusty tomes and simply daydream about excitement and adventure in a foreign land where only an Academic can save the day. There will be suspense, intrigue, and, by God, there will be khakis and a whip.

Unfortunately, I'm a sucker for this type of novel. It's my guilty pleasure because it's the antithesis of the life I live, happily sitting in my papasan chair, sipping coffee, and reading book after book after book. The idea that I could be out there, saving the day, with my literary knowledge and rapier wit, is just fun. Impractical. Impossible. And did I mention fun?

However, while this is admittedly the reading equivalent of sitting down and inhaling a bag of chips and then feeling guilty later, I do have some requirements for this type of book. It has to be fast-paced, it has to be clever, it has to know its topic well (I don't mind when the narrative digresses to cleverly teach me something I did not know before), and it has to have, if we're to continue with the potato chip analogy, some texture, some flavor, some crunch. Don't hand me a bag of plain potato chips when I know that I could have a bag of cheddar-bacon-sour cream-barbecue-nacho-chicken and waffles (yeah, apparently that is a chip flavor)-smokehouse ribs-ultra-maximum-loaded-flavor-explosion. If I'm going to feel guilty later, might as well go balls out now.

Alas, The Intelligencer is a bag of plain potato chips. Silbert knows her subject well and sprinkles interesting historical tidbits throughout the novel, but everything else is just bland. Bland characters, bland dialogue, and a bland mystery. The novel consists of two alternating plot lines: one set in Elizabethan England and one set in present day New York. In Elizabethan England, playwright Christopher Marlowe lives a double life as a spy for his country, a plot which parallels that of present day Kate Morgan, grad student turned private investigator. Marlowe investigates a smuggling operation that could put his life in danger; Kate investigates a shady art dealer while also looking into the appearance of a strange book chronicling secret intel from Queen Elizabeth's own spy network. We can also assume her life will be in danger and that these two narratives will eventually converge with the present day Kate unraveling the shocking truth behind Marlowe's death (not a spoiler since Marlowe's death has always been presented as mysterious).

The alternating plotline seems unnecessary as the one about Marlowe is far superior and more interesting. The interruptions by Kate in the present day slow down the narrative and lessen the tension created in Marlowe's world. The characters are stock and their dialogue is clumsy. Kate Morgan also seems to be a carbon copy of the author, Leslie Silbert--even the way Kate is described matches Silbert's author photo. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but I kept feeling as though I was just peering into Silbert's daydream, starring herself, and daydreams are only interesting to the person conjuring them up.

Ultimately, there was not enough to keep my interest and I stopped reading somewhere around page 100. Perhaps the mystery eventually picked up steam to carry the novel through to the end, but nothing I had read up to that point convinced me it would be worth my time to finish. Besides, I have much tastier offerings awaiting me on my bookshelves and, damn it, now I want a bag of chips.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder ( )
2 vote snat | Apr 18, 2013 |

1 of 21 books for $10. 2/10/12 ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
A detective-novel, featuring Christopher Marlowe and the network of espionage in the Elizabethan age. Entertaining read with a few nice twists. ( )
  Trifolia | Jun 13, 2012 |
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Intelligencer: One employed to obtain secret information, an informer, a spy, a secret agent.

A term first used in the late sixteenth century.

--The Oxford English Dictionary
For My Parents
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The rendezvous was set for nightfall and the sun was sinking quickly.
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