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1789 and all that

Books | By Minoo Dinshaw | December 2017


Treason’s Spring By Robert Wilton

Robert Wilton, a British civil servant and diplomat now representing an intergovernmental organisation in Albania, purports to bring back his boxes for the entertainment of a home audience. His series of historical thrillers pose as archival discoveries from a top-secret drawer gathering dust in the Ministry of Defence, containing the papers of the ‘Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey’. The framing device is an ancient component of the historical novel, well-beloved of Walter Scott himself. This one tends to a vision of British policy as sinisterly, ubiquitously efficient that seems distinctly out of tune with recent developments. In Wilton’s novel, an agent of the Comptrollerate claims it was ‘old when Walsingham thought he was new’, and has guaranteed ‘the endurance of peace and relative stability in Britain’. Any spectator of the events of 2016-17 might be forgiven a mirthless chuckle at that Mayist qualifier ‘relative’. If Britain had really masterminded international...

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