😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
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.
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.