Crimson Rose (Kit Marlowe 5) by MJ Trow

crimson roseThe dramatic arts of Kit Marlowe…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It’s the opening night of Christopher Marlowe’s new play Tamburlaine Part 2 at the Rose Theatre and everyone is expecting it to be spectacular, especially the bit where they shoot the Governor. But as the guns go off, screams are heard from the audience and a woman falls dead, shot through the neck. When it turns out that not only was actor William Shakespeare’s gun loaded with a real musket ball but the victim was also Shakespeare’s landlady, it seems clear who is the culprit. Clear to everyone but Kit Marlowe, that is – his experience of working in Walsingham’s shady world of secrecy and spies has taught him to look beyond the obvious…

It took me a little bit of time to get into this historical mystery, mainly because the author has decided to take the approach of using modern language and even idiom on occasion. I’m not a great one for thee-ing and thou-ing in historical fiction, but phrases like ‘Cambridge was so six months ago’ and ‘that sounds like a plan’ jarred me at first. However, once I got into the style, I began to like this more and more. It’s clever and funny, and it seems to me that the historical aspects are pretty accurate.

“The dead man bobbed his way down stream, rolling with the dark waters past Paul’s Wharf. If he had still had his senses, he would have recoiled at the stink of Billingsgate where the corpses of dead fish floated, like his, on the ebb tide. He was making for the sea in that casual, unhurried way that dead men will.”

Poor Shakespeare is shown as a kind of hick just up from the country, while Marlowe is a 16th century James Bond – smooth and sophisticated. Ned Alleyn is the star actor, with the ego to suit, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with young Richard Burbage trying to get a role. Trow’s depiction of the luvvieness, ambition and petty jealousies of the actors joyously draws on today’s celebrity culture, and we also get to see the ‘angels’ rubbing their hands with glee as audience numbers rocket after the tragedy in the theatre.

MJ Trow
MJ Trow

There’s a solid plot, though, underneath all the fun, and the quality of the writing is very good. We also get to see some of the darker side of London life, with Walsingham and his man, Nicholas Faunt, trying to woo Marlowe back to work for the state. There’s corruption and criminality, violence (never graphic, though) and religious intolerance, but all handled with a deftly light touch. The climax is suitably dramatic and overall I found this as satisfying as it was enjoyable. It appears this is the fifth in the Marlowe series – oh, dear! Another four for the TBR pile…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Severn House.

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22 thoughts on “Crimson Rose (Kit Marlowe 5) by MJ Trow

  1. FictionFan – That’s such an interesting question isn’t it? Does one write in modern dialect (thus avoiding the ‘thees and thous,’ but risking authenticity and a smooth blend with the plot) or does one use period dialect (and risk ‘thees and thous,’ but remain true to the period?). That’s not an easy question to resolve. I’m glad this one worked for you, though. And I do like a theatre story… 🙂


    • i think this worked because he was completely consistent about it throughout. He’d obviously just decided they would all speak like people today and I suppose that’s as authentic as anything else, since we don’t really know how people spoke. Once I’d got used to it, I found it added to the overall light humour…


  2. 😆 The thee-ing and thou-ing gets on the professor’s nerves too! But…it would be neat if society reverted to using them all the time.

    I like the idea of shooting someone amidst the noise of a play. Sounds like a professorish plot.

    The professor enjoys reading historical fiction. Dumas does good with that, but he usually gets the facts wrong. Does Mr. Trow?


    • Dost thou think so? Thou wouldns’t be allowed to use thy Americanisms like ‘neat’ though…and ‘u’s would be compulsory, thou knowest…

      Yes, it was good plot – fun but well worked out. To know if he was historically accurate though, would mean I’d have to know the history – and my poor overloaded mind doesn’t retain facts. Seemed fairly OK to me though, and light-hearted enough that the odd mistake wouldn’t have mattered too much anyway.


        • 😆 (Note to self: update CV to include ‘fkuent in old speaky’…)

          Art thou laughing FF to scorn again – wicked Professor? If thou werst to just make it up (like FF dost) then thou couldest write in any language thou likest, and that’d be pure braw, d’ye ken?


          • Yes, that’s it. FEF is fluent in old speaky. You must teach the professor some day.

            Oh no, that’s what FEF does to the professor. I never laugh anyone to scorn–that I can recall.

            Haha! See? FEF makes it up! Now, that’s very, very, very dadblamed creative! And now you’re doing a dual speaky… The professor is blown away.


            • The Professor must surely have spoken old speaky during the middle ages though? Hast he forgot?

              Oh no I don’t! Oh yes you do!!

              😆 (See? You’re doing it again)


            • He has. The mind–no good.

              When? I don’t do that sort of thing! Goodness dadblameit!

              The professor is being quite honest. In truth, this is true. I think that you think everybody is as wicked as you…


  3. Great review – and, unfortunately, this sounds as though it might be a good series. Isn’t adding books one at a time enough for you?


  4. This sounds as though it would irritate this particular Shakespeare scholar to the point of a fit of the screaming nasties. I couldn’t even cope with ‘Shakespeare in Love’ so I doubt I would be able to manage this.


    • Haha! I thought it would drive me nuts at first but he got past my guard by making me laugh. And I did like seeing Shakespeare as the country bumpkin, being cheerfully patronised by Marlowe…


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