I am a huge sucker for historical fiction from two time periods : first, anything in Ancient Egypt but more specifically the era when Cleopatra, Caesar and Marc Antony were kicking around (I will be reviewing Cleopatra : A Life in the future) and second, anything Elizabethan era. So when I found out there is a series of historical fiction mysteries set in the Elizabethan era where Shakespeare’s older brother solves mysteries I had to check it out. I didn’t realize there was a previous novel so I missed the first book of this series but I enjoyed this book enough that it didn’t bother me as much as that usually does.
So John Shakespeare is Will’s older brother, super intelligent and formerly a spy for Walshingham (the Queen’s spy master). Now Walsingham is dead, the Queen is fast fading and there are intrigues aplenty at Court as people are jockeying for positions and Spain is getting all assassiny. John is approached by the Earl of Essex who wants him to investigate a report that a woman has been spotted in London who was known to be a colonist at the mysterious colony of Roanoke ( you know the one where everybody died, and all that was left were mysterious markings on trees). Then he is approached by Sir Cecil (the Queen’s NEW spymaster) who wants John to spy on the Earl of Essex because he suspects him of wanting to kill his queen. Meanwhile, John is dealing with plague in the city and his wife possibly hiding a priest (which is very much against the law). Who is the mysterious woman and was she at Roanoke? Is the Earl of Essex really plotting treason? How do several strange murders around town connect to both of these things? As Shakespeare said “The game is afoot.” (Interesting sidenote : Shakespeare is responsible for more sayings than any other individual in history, at least 135 including “The game is afoot, good riddance, and wild goose chase.” )
I really enjoyed this mystery novel. The plot was intricate and detailed, with nothing being overly obvious. The historical accuracies of the novel made me feel as if Clements put me right into Elizabethan England. The characters were interesting and varied from lower class whores to aristocratic nobles. If you are looking for a literary novel then you should probably look elsewhere – there are no intense subtle contexts to this book. But if you are looking for a solid historical mystery novel then this should be on your list. I give the book seven shoes – a pair of green wedge moccasin shoes that I love but don’t get bust out as often as I would like.
Title : Revenger by Rory Clements
Three Appeals : Detailed historical setting, intricate and interesting mystery, well developed characters
Red Flags : Some sex and violence
For more historical mysteries try :
1) An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
Opinionated, influential Dr. Robert Grove is poisoned with arsenic in his New College lodgings. A missing signet ring leads his colleagues to his former servant (and rumored strumpet) Sarah Blundy, who, swiftly brought to trial, confesses and is promptly hanged–and dissected by enthusiastic physician Richard Lower. But the crime, evidently so simple in its events, is presented through the distorting lenses of four narrators whose obsessions place it in dramatically different contexts. Visiting Venetian Marco da Cola, a dandy mined in medicine, who has been treating Sarah’s ailing mother Anne, grieves for the ruin of mother and daughter and the wreck of his own friendship with Lower. Sarah’s former lover Jack Prestcott, an undergraduate jailed for attacking his guardian, is consumed with proving that his exiled father was hounded to his death innocent of the charge of treason the returning monarch Charles II’s supporters had lodged against him. Dr. John Wallis, mathematician and divine, sees no inconsistency between his endless petty intrigues on behalf of Charles’s scheming minister Henry Bennet and his vituperative condemnation of Sarah. In the brilliantly illuminated world in which medical experiments, religious and political debates between Roundheads and Royalists, and the founding of the Royal Society bring debates about the nature of science, history, religion, and authority into a focus whose sharpness has a special urgency for our own time, each of these narrators has his own slashingly conflicting claims to make. But it’s not until the final narrator, burrowing historian Anthony Wood, weighs in to judge among the sharply competing visions of the earlier narrators that Pears produces his most memorable surprises, or unveils his deepest mysteries. ( taken from Kirkus Reviews, 1997).
2) Firedrake’s Eye by Patricia Finney
London, 1583. The loyal courtier Simon Ames is viciously beaten. Is the attack random, or has Ames been the victim of a subtly treasonous act? A nonsense poem written by the lunatic Tom O’Bedlam has become a favourite of London’s ballad sellers. Who has taken the meanderings of a madman so seriously and why? Following a trail of murder, treason and terror, Ames sets out to find the truth. But as he digs deeper into the human midden that is Elizabethan London, the puzzle becomes an enigma, then a riddle. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)
3) The Poyson Garden by Karen Harper
The letter came in secret, with a pearl eardrop from an aunt long thought dead, resurrecting the forbidden past. Banished by her spiteful half sister, Queen Mary, to Hatfield House in the English countryside, twenty-five-year-old Princess Elizabeth cannot refuse the summons. The Boleyns are in grave danger. And Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, is marked for death by a master poisoner whose reign of terror may have royal sanction. With her few loyal retainers, Elizabeth escapes to Kent. Here, in her ancestral Hever Castle, now held by the Queen’s loyalists, Elizabeth seeks to unravel the plot against her. And here, in the embrace of intrigue and betrayal, the princess must find a brilliant, powerfully connected killer-before the killer finds her…. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)
Are you a fan of historical fiction/mysteries? What’s your favorite time period?