FIREDRAKE'S EYE, by Patricia Finney

London, 1583, Elizabeth's reign. Author Finney comments, "The Elizabethans were not nice people," and goes on to amply demonstrate how not nice they were. Her elegant, sometimes borderline mystical, writing style took a bit getting used to, but the effort was well worth it. Told by mad Tom O'Bedlam, we follow David Becket, a hard-drinking down-and-out master sworsdman, and Simon Ames, a Marano - Portugese Jew - and employee in Sir Frances Walsingham's intelligence office. Simon's specialty is seeing patterns in spies' correspondence, but the Firedrake - financed by Philip of Spain - eludes him. Tom, capering about London with angels and demons, sees it: his hated brother - the one who coldly committed him to the horrors of Bedlam Hospital - return from Rome to assassinate Elizabeth the Queen. The endless privations and brutalities are casually laid out for you to see, as they might have been in 1583. The action is as taut as any modern thriller...but the writing is so good, the story so compelling, the characters so unusual, I didn't want it to end. It's got to be a 5+.