Her Majesty’s Spymaster, by Stephen Budiansky. The concept of the book is interesting: it’s the life of Sir Francis Walsingham during the period he was mired in the intrigues surrounding Elizabeth I. The book is full of well-supported historical details of codes cracked, plots foiled, double agents managed, and perpetrators brought to justice (the fast and ruthless justice of the sort meted out in that period, anyway). Walsingham prospered in spite of the difficulties of supporting a ruler as capricious as Elizabeth, who did not always act on good advice and who never wanted to be seen making unpopular decisions.
I didn’t find it an easy book to read: partly because of the not-entirely-chronological structure and partly because of the density of detail. However, it helps a lot with an understanding of this period of English history. Walsingham is described as the first spymaster — maybe we can think of him as the head of an early combination of MI5 and MI6.
The Game: a movie from 1997. It’s escapist fun. Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas) is an investment banker in his late forties: driven, married to his work, and clearly not having any fun. His younger brother, played by Sean Penn, gives him a 48th birthday present: a gift certificate for a game. Sceptical and dismissive at first, van Orton eventually goes to the company headquarters of Consumer Recreation Services to redeem the voucher. Here you have to start suspending disbelief, as he endures lengthy psychological questionnaires and undergoes a physical examination, all without knowing what it is for.
Then the game begins: strange things start to happen in his life. Again, you question whether you’re willing to invest some belief in the story. At this point, you will either eject the disk and do something else or settle back with a beverage and tell your analytical side to take a break. If you’re willing to do that, you may find it an enjoyable movie. There are gaping holes in the plot but the visuals are well done, the supporting actors are strong, and there are some interesting twists along the way.
Coffee and pastries on the patio at Thomas Haas on Broadway in Vancouver. Each year, the first few times you eat outside on a sunny spring day make the months of grey skies and rain recede rapidly into dim memories.