The book opens in the summer of 1642, when the disputes between King Charles I and Parliament are about to break into open civil war. My nobly born protagonist, Laurence Beaumont, returns to England after six dissolute years abroad as a mercenary, spy, and a cardsharp in a Dutch brothel. He bears both the physical and psychological scars from his experience of this other longer and more violent conflict, the Thirty Years War, and he remains deeply damaged after a failed love affair. Now, in his own words, he has lost his honour, and does not know how to get back again.
Coded letters that Beaumont brought with him draw him fatefully into the entangled political scene at home. The letters outline a conspiracy to assassinate the king, and soon Beaumont finds himself pursued by the regicides, who are threatening the lives of those he loves most. Meanwhile, just as the Secretary of State's ruthless spymaster has forced him into service as an agent, Beaumont encounters a new female interest: the beautiful Isabella Savage offers to help him, but her allegiances are as mysterious as her past and he knows that he must beware of her charms. One false step, and he could face imprisonment, torture or worse. And throughout, he is haunted by memories, and by a strange prophecy delivered to him one night in Spain that, despite his cynicism, he cannot shrug off.
Without revealing too much of the plot, I should add that Beaumont's destiny is intertwined with those of two other men: the Secretary of State, Lord Falkland - a historical character - whose desire to avoid bloodshed and inability to engage in real politik end in tragedy, and one of the conspirators, who is blinded by resentment and personal ambition.
In the novel, I wanted not only to tell a story of suspense and political intrigue, but also to explore the conceptions of honour, duty, and trust which were so vital to the seventeenth century mind. The title of The Best of Men is drawn from The Politics of Aristotle, and refers to the corrupting effect of unfettered power on the human psyche.
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