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The Intelligencer

The Intelligencer

by Leslie Silbert


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London, 1593: It is three weeks before the murder of Christopher Marlowe, playwright and spy in Queen Elizabeth I's secret service — a crime that remains unsolved to this day. Marlowe is hoping to find his missing muse as he sets off on a new intelligence assignment...and closes in on the secret that will seal his fate.
New York City, present day: Renaissance scholar turned private eye Kate Morgan investigates a shocking heist and murder involving a mysterious, antique manuscript recently unearthed in central London. What secret lurks in those yellowed, ciphered pages...and how, centuries later, could it drive someone to kill?
Propelling us from the shadows of the sixteenth-century underworld to the chambers of a clandestine U.S. intelligence unit, from the glitter of the Elizabethan court to the catacombs of ancient Rome, The Intelligencer's dual narratives twist, turn, and collide as they race toward a stunning finale.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743432931
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: 04/05/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,087,089
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Leslie Silbert graduated from Harvard with a bachelor's and master's degree in the History of Science and studied Renaissance literature at Oxford. She works as a private investigator in New York City under the guidance of a former CIA officer and is currently writing her second Kate Morgan novel. For more information, please visit


New York, New York

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.


B.A., M.A. in The History of Science, Harvard University; Renaissance Literature studies, Oxford University

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

What, will you thus oppose me, luckless stars...

That I may vanish o'er the earth in air,

And leave no memory that e'er I was?

No, I will live...

— BARABAS, in Marlowe's The Jew of Malta


His rendezvous was set for nightfall and the sun was sinking quickly. The young man had no time to spare. But as he neared London Bridge, the familiar sounds along that particular stretch of the Thames were hard to resist. His pace slowed. His ears perked up. The clamor of the bear-baiting arena beckoned — a chained bear howling as canine jaws tore at its flesh, frenzied dogs shrieking with every swipe of the bear's claws, groundlings hollering out bets and cheering wildly.

Halting midstride, with one tall black boot hovering a few inches above the ground, he tested his resolve. It failed.

He veered off the riverside path and headed toward the arena. En route, a swath of bold colors drew his attention — the canopy of an unfamiliar booth. Curious, he approached. Long scarlet tresses came into view, then the gnarled face of an old woman, smiling with red-stained lips that matched her shiny wig. At first she appeared to be selling decks of playing cards, but after looking him over, she lifted a small sign advertising her forbidden trade: Grizel's Tarot. With his rakish clothing and brown hair hanging loose, it was clear he was no prim city official.

Slapping a few pennies on her table, the young man asked, "Should I put my money on the bear?"

"You would rather hear the bear's fortune than your own?"

He looked away for a moment, as if thoughtful, then turned back with a mischievous smile. "Yes."

"It would be more worth your while to attend to yourself."

"Well, that is a subject I'm fond of." He took a seat.

She laid her battered cards out slowly, several ill-fitting rings sliding along her shriveled fingers. When the tenth card had been carefully placed facedown upon the table, the woman looked up.

"May we skip to the end? I haven't much time."

"Why don't you let Grizel be the judge of that? First, I must know who you are." Near her left hand, five cards were arranged in the shape of a Celtic cross. She picked up the central card. "Your soul." Turning it over, she gazed reverently at the faded image of a man in a red cloak and cap. "The Magician. Manipulator of the natural world...loves tricks and illusions. Has a powerful imagination. A master of language, he is most nimble with words."


Raising a gray brow at his inarticulate response, she double-checked the card. With a shrug, she set it down, then selected the bottommost card of the cross. "The card of the present moment. Oh, my, the Page of Swords. You have a passionate mind, don't you, my friend? Always searching, seeking to uncover the hidden truth. Indeed, you begin such a quest today."

The young man leaned forward with interest. "Sweet lady, you're good."

Flattered, she began flipping over the cards that formed the remainder of the cross. "The Ten of Coins — in reverse. You like gambling. And risk, grave risk. Toeing the edge of a precipice."

"Keeps life interesting, and my pockets full."

"Outside influences...let me see. The Three of Swords — a dangerous triangle, a fierce conflict. Two powerful forces threaten you." Looking up, she noticed that his expression remained calm. "You'd best take heed," she declared sternly. "Danger discovered in this position is real, but it can be survived."

"Threats, conflicts...such things are everyday occurrences." He waved his hand dismissively. "If you please, my last card?"

Grumpily she turned to the second formation of cards on her table: a column five cards high. Lifting the top one, she peered at the image for a moment, hesitated, then showed it to him — a hand-painted skeleton, skull on the ground, toe bones in the air. "How could this be? Upside down, the Death card signifies an impending brush with danger, but one that will be survived. Here, in the afterlife position, it seems to mean you will live after your death..."

Puzzled, she tilted her head and studied his face.

"Does seem odd, I admit," he said. "Though some have called my looks otherworldly, perhaps — "

She scowled, then broke into a toothless grin. "Ah, of course. I forgot who you are, Magician. Now I understand. It is your magic that is to survive. Long after you take your last breath."

The young man bowed his head bashfully. Though Grizel didn't know it, she was talking to London's most popular playmaker, a writer whose deft pen had worked magic upon the theatrical stage. He marveled at her insight. Then his jaw muscle twitched. A pox on it! The cursed thought had wormed its way back into his head — the very one he had been chasing away for months. Would he make such magic again? Of course he would. When the time was right, he told himself.

Looking back up, he flashed his mischievous smile once more. "My lady, could you tell me just one thing I do not yet know?"

Grizel tried to frown, but the twinkle in his eye was contagious. Lifting the second highest card in the column on her right, she glanced at it, then slammed it down as if it burned her fingertips.

"What is it?"

Sadly she placed a hand over his. "Barring angelic intervention, you'll not live to see the next moon."

Vaguely startled, he slid his right hand into the pocket of his close-fitting silk doublet. "There's nothing like a second opinion. Particularly when the first suggests your end is nigh. Do not mistake me, you've been a delight, but there's another lady I always consult when it comes to matters of fate." He produced a silver coin. "If it's her face that greets me, I've nothing to worry about."

He tossed the coin up in the air. Glinting now and again, it flipped over a few times before falling into his left palm, landing face up. "Ah, not to worry, Grizel. The queen here says all will be well. And as her dutiful subject, I am honor-bound to take her word over yours."

With a blown kiss and a smile, the young man left the Tarot booth and hurried once more on his way to London Bridge. Tilting his coin to catch the setting sun's orange glow, he looked closely at the metallic image of Queen Elizabeth's face. He winked at her, and as always, she winked back; he'd scratched off a fragment of the silver over her left eye, revealing just a speck of the darker metal beneath. The trick coin, which had more silver plate on one side than the other, was a counterfeit English shilling he'd fashioned with an associate while on a clandestine mission in the Netherlands the previous year. The fates are fickle. Better to manufacture your luck, than hope for it.

Luck of any kind was a precious commodity to him. After all, he was not just a writer in search of his muse. Young Christopher Marlowe was a spy in the queen's secret service...a spy with no idea that the old crone was right.

Copyright © 2004 by Leslie Silbert

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions for The Intelligencer
1) The action in this novel moves rapidly between Elizabethan England and modern times, shifting centuries with each chapter. How did this atypical structure affect your reading of the story? What does the juxtaposition of two time periods offer that novels confined to one period do not?
2) Christopher Marlowe is presented as a complex man: poet, spy, patriot, friend, and enemy. And while he doesn't follow many rules, his ultimate commitment to doing what he thinks is right never wavers. This becomes clear in chapter six: "It was a delicate balance to maintain-satisfying his handlers while operating according to his own set of principles-but somehow, he was managing it." What do you think of this policy? Given that Marlowe knows his delicate balancing act is "doomed to an unpleasant end," why does he persist? Would you?
3) Kate admits that she has always admired "the Cat," the burglar who initially tried to steal the manuscript. The Cat was described as a modern-day Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving the proceeds to charity. Do you think Kate would ever change teams and become a thief herself? She seems to relish the thrill of thwarting the bad guys; do you see her getting involved in other, perhaps not so legal, work? Do the connections between her character and the character of Marlowe help to answer this question?
4) Talk about the way that human nature is portrayed in this novel. Does it seem to change between Marlowe's day and the modern era, or do you see certain commonalities that transcend time? To what extent do you criticize a character like Robert Cecil, a man who will do anything to further his own interests? To what extent is he a product of his environment? What about his descendant, Cidro Medina? Do you consider it more forgivable to be a villain in what some might call a more villainous age?
5) While Marlowe and Kate are parallel characters in many ways, their cultures are not so similar. In fact, some might say that more comparisons can be made between Marlowe's England and Hamid Azadi's Iran. As noted in chapter 3, beneath the glitter, Elizabethan England was an "ugly police state," a Protestant theocracy similar in ways to the Islamic theocracy of today's Iran, which also represses and tortures religious and political dissidents. Discuss these parallels.
6) While backstabbing, thievery, and deception have been the norm for spies since the first days of espionage, there are glimmers of integrity in some of The Intelligencer's most unscrupulous characters. Even Robert Poley, a man who seduces married women for sport, is often characterized in a somewhat positive light: "Betrayal might be his livelihood and greatest form of pleasure, but when it involved someone he respected, he lost interest. And beyond that, he wanted to help whoever was trapped in the tangle of government plotting." What is your impression of Poley-is he a good man, or an inherently immoral character? What about Luca de Tolomei? In many ways, his grief-induced obsession with revenge is understandable. By the end of the novel, do you think he feels satisfied, or rather, avenged? Did you still consider him a villain? Do you see similarities between his character and that of Robert Poley?
7) By chapter 24, it is clear that both of Marlowe's employers are trying to bring about his doom. It's a different story for Kate. There's no question that her boss, Jeremy Slade, values her and wants to protect her. Do you think this is a reflection of certain differences between the intelligence services in Marlowe's day versus those today? Also, while the actions of Marlowe's bosses are clearly unforgivable, what about the lies that Jeremy Slade told Kate? Do you think Kate will forgive him in Silbert's next novel? What about her father, Don Morgan? Now that Kate has had her absolute trust in her boss shattered, do you think she'll keep working for the Slade Group? Do you think she'll take on Marlowe's policy of lying to his superiors and carrying out assignments how he sees fit?
8) Late in the novel, as Thomas Phelippes attempts to break into Essex's bedroom, we learn that, "He liked to surprise people now and then because you didn't really know someone if you only saw them the way they wanted to be seen." In what ways might Phelippes' secret habit inform a discussion on the nature of truth? Is it possible to ever truly know someone you've never caught in a private moment? Silbert shifts points of view frequently in this novel, allowing us to get to know most of the main characters and see the action and meet others through their eyes. Did you like this narrative structure? What do you see as its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to novels of suspense? Do you think it allows you to more fully "know" the characters, than does a novel told entirely from the first person perspective?
9) Kate told Medina that while in school, she studied the pursuit of secrets and forbidden knowledge in the Renaissance, focusing on the question: What type of knowledge was the most dangerous to pursue back then and why? Reflecting back upon the story, and Kate's discussion with Medina from chapter 17 in particular, what would you say was the most highly protected secret knowledge in Marlowe's day and what is it now? Who pursues it and who is the most threatened by its exposure? What is at stake for the pursuer, the government, and the culture if it is obtained and revealed?
10) Do you think it significant that the object that sets the modern-day adventure in motion is nothing more than an old manuscript? In chapter 7, as Kate and Max consider who might be trying to steal it, they discuss secrets with the power to transcend time. Kate speculates that the manuscript might contain evidence invalidating someone's claim to a valuable estate, while Max wonders if the secret in the manuscript is something that a government or church wishes to cover up. Were you surprised to learn what Jade Dragon was really after? In real life, do you believe there are secrets having nothing to do with the prospect of financial gain, for which people would kill, to keep quiet?

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