Fire over England
It is about a young man, Robin Aubrey, who comes of age shortly before the invasion of the Spanish Armada. Robin believes his father to have died in Spain, a victim of the Spanish Inquisition. When he meets Elizabeth I's spymaster, Francis Walsingham; Walsingham (an old friend of his father) reveals that George Aubrey is still alive, living in poverty in Spain. Walsingham hatches a plot to infiltrate Robin into Spanish society and to deliver into Walsingham's hands full details of the Armada. Robin will undertake a dangerous mission, with traitorous neighbours, but it will be traitors nearer home who will cost Robin dearly.
It's a fascinating novel of its period. When I was reading it, I was reminded very much of Death of an airman, whose author was about to die in the Spanish Civil War. I suspect that the start of the Spanish Civil War may well have been an influence on Mason's writing. This novel feels as though it's gearing up for war. It's not just about a tempestuous past, but about a possibly turbulent future.
I was also intrigued to learn that Mason himself had once worked in Naval intelligence (it seems to have been a fertile ground for authors). He writes about Walsingham and the spies who worked for him with some perception, they are not just spies, but real people. It's a patriotic romp in much the same way that Four Feathers was, but this felt to me like a much sadder tale. War is seen as inevitable, but there's little of the glory that was present in the earlier novel. No doubt this is due to the time gap between them, and the shadow of the First World War that swept between the two novels.
It feels oddly prescient. A novel very much of its time, and one that hasn't endured particularly well, but worth a read if only to prove that in the mid-'30s there were some authors who were only too well aware of what the future might hold.