March 1587 and Christopher Marlowe’s first play, Tamburlaine The Great is opening at the Rose theatre. Marlowe is trying to distance himself from his past exploits as one of Sir Francis Walsingham’s agents but finds himself drawn into more mystery and intrigue when, on the opening night, an actor fires a gun loaded with blanks on the stage – and a woman drops dead in the audience, shot through the throat. The actor in question – a certain Mr William Shakespeare.
Another body surfaces from the Thames and Marlowe suspects that they may be connected. But can he keep Shakespeare from the executioner’s block and catch a clever murderer?
My first encounter with Marlowe via M J Trow but this is the fifth book in the series, along with a non-fiction work “Who Killed Kit Marlow?” He has also written a number of mysteries featuring school teacher Peter Maxwell and an equal number starring one Inspector Lestrade – you might have heard of him. Quite a back catalogue for an author that hasn’t crossed my radar before, but naturally I was drawn to the historical series.
I don’t know much about Marlowe, a playwright who, it is claimed, might have been greater than Shakespeare if he hadn’t been (mysteriously?) killed in a bar fight after only writing five or so plays. But there have been rumours that he was more than just a playwright, rumours that Trow embraces by making him an ex-spy and general all-round detective.
The Elizabethan theatrical world is brought vividly to life as we encounter actors, writers and the investors in the theatre, all of whom end up circling around the plot. There are a lot of characters and a lot of threads in the mystery which keeps the reader turning the page until the killer is revealed. The background never gets in the way of the plot but enhances it wonderfully.
It’s a shame that the reveal of the murderer is less of a “solve”, more of a “catch them in the act” finale. While there’s a lot of elements that can be deduced or guessed at regarding what exactly is going on, the actual killer… well, I’m not sure there was a single clue pointing in that direction. If there was, Marlowe was inconsiderate not to mention it at the end.
But it’s a great read and despite that niggle, I’ll be coming back for more from this author in the future. It sounds ridiculous to say that a 30-novel plus author “shows potential” but as this is the first one that I’ve read, I suppose it works. Recommended, especially if you like the Tudor period. You might want to find it in the library though, as it’s not cheap at the moment in hardback.
My copy was supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.