Series: John Shakespeare
Genre: Historical Thriller
Author: Rory Clements
Publish Date: Sept 9, 2014
Publisher: Witness Impulse
In this ingenious debut, Rory Clements introduces John Shakespeare, Elizabethan England’s most remarkable investigator, and delivers a tale of murder and conspiracy that succeeds brilliantly as both historical fiction and a crime thriller. In a burnt-out house, one of Queen Elizabeth’s aristocratic cousins is found murdered, her young flesh marked with profane symbols. At the same time, a plot to assassinate Sir Francis Drake, England’s most famous sea warrior, is discovered--a plot which, if successful, could leave the country utterly defenseless against a Spanish invasion. It’s 1587, the Queen’s reign is in jeopardy, and one man is charged with the desperate task of solving both cases: John Shakespeare. With the Spanish Armada poised to strike, Mary Queen of Scots awaiting execution, and the pikes above London Bridge decorated with the grim evidence of treachery, the country is in peril of being overwhelmed by fear and chaos. Following a trail of illicit passions and family secrets, Shakespeare travels through an underworld of spies, sorcerers, whores, and theater people, among whom is his own younger brother, the struggling playwright, Will. Shadowed by his rival, the Queen’s chief torturer, who employs his own methods of terror, Shakespeare begins to piece together a complex and breathtaking conspiracy whose implications are almost too horrific to contemplate. For a zealous and cunning killer is stalking England’s streets.And as Shakespeare threatens to reveal a madman’s shocking identity, he and the beautiful woman he desires come ever closer to becoming the next martyrs to a passion for murder and conspiracy whose terrifying consequences might still be felt today...
ROSE DOWNIE SAT on the cold cobbles, cradling a swaddled baby that was not hers. She leant her aching back against the wall of the imposing stone house, close to its arched oak door. Under any other circumstance nothing could have brought her near this building where baleful apprehension hung heavy in the air like the stink of tallow, but the man who lived here, Richard Topcliffe, was her last hope. She had been to the court of law but the justice had merely shaken his head dismissively and said that even had he believed her – which, he said, with a scowl, was as unlikely as apple blossom in November – there was nothing he could do for her. The constable had been no more helpful. ‘Mistress Downie,’ he said, ‘put the baby in a bag like a kitten and throw it in the Thames. What use is it alive? I promise you, in God’s name, that I will not consider the killing a crime, but an act of mercy, and you shall never hear another word of the matter.’ Now, outside Topcliffe’s house in the snow-flecked street, close by St Margaret’s churchyard in Westminster, Rose sat and waited. She had knocked at the door once already, and it had been answered by a sturdy youth with a thin beard who had looked her up and down with distaste and told her to go away. She had refused and he closed the door in her face. The intense cold would have driven anyone else home to sit at the fireside wrapped in blankets, but Rose would not go until she had seen Topcliffe and begged him to help.
A well-researched, well described historical murder mystery with intrigue and compelling descriptions. I enjoyed reading Martyr while I found the pace a bit slow at times and some scenes rather unnecessary I did revel in the crime-solving taking place in this book. Martyr has a very unique flavor of a Sherlock Holmes-esque mystery, mixed with some brutality reminiscent of Jack the Ripper all while taking place in a very religiously tense time period of the late 16th Century more specifically 1587.
John Shakespeare is our lead character, the fictional brother of the great William Shakespeare . John works for Secretary Walsingham and is his #1 agent. John is confronted with the despicable murder of Lady Blanche Howard which as it unravels becomes a much bigger conspiracy then initially thought. The crime sets off a series of movements and players that all connected to ultimately solving of the case. I loved piecing together the clues in this book, every character that was introduced made choices that put them on certain paths that interconnected and intertwined to create this very intricate crime leading up to one conniving individual that you didn’t really expect.
There is drama, murder, prostitution, witchcraft, danger, suspense and a bit of romance in the novel. It kept me entertained and interested throughout. John as well as the supporting cast of characters are all believable in their convictions regardless of how extreme and you get a good sense of how the tensions and conspiring ran rampant in those times; with those believing in Queen Elizabeth and those opposed to the “Usurping Bastard” Queen as described in the novel. The characters go to great lengths to do what they believe is right even if it’s criminal or inhumane. I also enjoyed the dichotomy of John’s character while he had allegiance to the Queen it was easy to see how uncomfortable and outright opposed he with some of the methods used to exert her dominion and order over those who would disagree or cause dissension.
I would have to say, though the relation to the might playwright William is not really important in the novel, one of my favorite scenes is when William utilizes his acting skills and troupe to protect those under John’s care, it was a short scene but it was both a tender and comical moment.
For those readers who are avid fans of historical crime, conspiracy mysteries this is a good book to pick up. It’s a good read and will keep you interested till the end. 4 Stars from me!
After a career in national newspapers, Rory Clements now lives in a seventeenth-century farmhouse in Norfolk and writes full time.
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