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Context Clues

James C. Ferguson

Average Review Rating Average Rating 7/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : iUniverse

Published : 2003

Copyright : James C. Ferguson 2003

ISBN-10 : PB 0-595-29124-4
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-595-29124-3

Publisher's Write-Up

Do you enjoy Monty Python, P.G. Wodehouse and Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder?

If so, then you might just enjoy Context Clues, an irreverent new novel from James C. Ferguson that combines both humour and history as it chronicles the fictional exploits of history's worst spy. Set during Sir Francis Walsingham's reign as chief secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, Context Clues follows the adventures of Basil Coventry, an "information gatherer" employed by The Crown.

Coventry is the satirical antithesis of Ian Fleming's James Bond: an arrogant, incompetent clod with an unquenchable appetite for anything and everything alcoholic. How the man puts his clothes on - let alone foils evil plots and schemes - remains on of the great mysteries of the Universe.

The story begins as the agent is called to his superior's office to receive his new assignment. Unfortunately, Coventry has just returned home after an all-night bender at the local watering hole. He hears not a word of his instructions and spends the rest of the tale attempting to identify the very mystery he's been instructed to solve!

Luckily, Coventry finds himself surrounded by a cast of extremely insightful supporting characters and makes absolutely no bones about appropriating their ideas. Now if he can just keep them from getting killed before they solve the mystery...

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Chrissi (311003) Rating (7/10)

Review by Chrissi
Rating 7/10
Context Clues is about Basil Coventry, a spy working for Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth the first's legendary spymaster. Unfortunately Basil is not the stuff of legend, preferring to spend his time drunk and dissolute, and he is given a task to perform whilst under the influence, so far under the influence in fact that he does not actually know what he has been asked to do. The clues that he has been given are some bones (of unknown origin but there is a distinct possibility that they may be human), a rolled parchment map and a spy-kit containing some rather dubious wings a la Leonardo da Vinci.

Basil leaves London, still unsure of the task that he has been set, and travels towards a large X near Northampton, thinking that it is as good a place as any to start looking. Finding himself travelling with chickens in an open cart is not Basil's idea of first class, as he is an inveterate snob, looking down on the unwashed masses as only a social climber can, whilst ignoring his own roots. He feels that he is a gentleman of some standing and as such should be welcomed into polite society. Basil considers himself to be genteel, urbane and witty, in the only manner that a self-absorbed drunkard could possibly conceive. Upon meeting with Sir Joshua, Basil thinks that he should be recognised as a man of some breeding, but as Sir Joshua does not think this, Basil feels really quite slighted.

The majority of the plot is concerned with Basil's character flaws bringing him, and those around him, low by various means. Basil is really not a very good spy, and is not a very nice person either. Having been bribed to follow the trail of a man (with money from the local Crown Mint), he tries to steal the money without fulfilling his obligation. Basil just seems to keep getting away with it, and when he is not getting away with it, he lies shamelessly and drops his travelling companions right in it.

I did quite enjoy his exploits once I had settled in to the story, the plot is neat and well drawn, the characters (especially the hapless Percy) well crafted. Unfortunately, my personal antipathy for Basil kind of spoiled it, and most readers probably won't like him as a person either, as he is not the type of hero for eulogies. That said, he does have a kind of inept charm that will draw you in... imagine Johnny English, but in tights and a ruff, let loose in the sixteenth century. All-in-all a promising debut novel.
Chrissi (31st October 2003)

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