As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion.
Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction.
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Published by Sharpe Books,
19 August 2019. ISBN: 978-1-69387951-7 (PB)
January 1599, and Queen Elizabeth 1 has been on the
throne for many years and not getting any younger. There is no obvious heir nor
has she, more capricious and cantankerous than ever, named one. Her various
courtiers are circling her, some like Robert Cecil, Secretary to the Privy
Council, anxious to promote the candidate that seems best suited for the
English throne, others anxious to promote their own claims, like Robert
Devereux, Earl of Essex, recently returned without success from the continuing
wars in Ireland.
Another returnee from
the Irish wars, similarly unsuccessful, is the poet Edmund Spenser, formerly
Chief Secretary for Ireland. And it is on the very first page of this book,
gathered around Spenser’s lifeless corpse, that we encounter the author’s
series protagonist, the famed fencing master and self-styled Master of Logic, Tom
Musgrave, along with two of his companions, one being the herbalist John Gerard
and the other one William Shakespeare. It is Gerard who suspects that Spenser’s
death is not accidental but the result of hemlock being poured into his ear
while he was asleep (sound familiar, anyone?), hemlock purchased, according to
Gerard’s apprentice Hal,from Gerard’s
own pharmacy by a hooded, cloaked individual calling himself Will Shakespeare.
however, although uneasy at the possible implications of any alleged
involvement in Spenser’s death, has other matters on his mind; his first plays
having been highly successful, he is investing in a new theatre suitable for
yet more ambitious productions. And there is the small matter of others plays
to write; he is currently working on three at the same time – Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Henry the Fifth. So, he leaves
Spenser’s lodgings, saying as he goes, ‘When shall we three meet again?’ But no
sooner has he gone than various law officers arrive and also two individuals,
the first being the astrologer Simon Forman, no friend to John Gerard, the
second the playwright George Chapman, who is deeply jealous of Shakespeare’s
success and accuses him of being a Roman Catholic – probably not true but in
those paranoid times, equivalent to an accusation of treason. It is imperative
that Tom and Gerard find Hal, and they track him to Forman’s dwelling, but
after that, it seems he has vanished. And during the course of the search for
Hal Tom and another of his companions, the laconic Dutchman, Ugo Stell, as well
as Gerard have to pursue the truth through the various rat-runs and wasps’
nests that constituted Elizabethan London, a pursuit which involves at least
one nefarious entry into Westminster Abbey, a number of evenings in various
taverns frequented by London’s criminal fraternity, and a trip to the infamous
prison, the Marshalsea.
I really enjoyed this
book and feel it is best described as a rambunctious romp underpinned by
substantial historical accuracy. I read it with one hand free to turn the pages
and the other poised over the Google/Wikipedia button. Nearly all the men
referred to in the story are real characters, not just the names familiar from
A-level history such as Essex, Raleigh, Secretary Burghley, and from
Elizabethan literature Christopher Marlowe (dead years before) and John Donne
(something of a Lothario when young) among others, but others completely
unfamiliar to me: Robert Poley, described by Wikipedia as a government double
agent, government messenger and agent provocateur, ‘the very genius of the
Elizabethan underworld’, and the really chilling Rackmaster Topcliffe, his
function all too well described by his soubriquet. The women, however, who
actually appear in the story, are, I think, fictitious, such as Shakespeare’s
mistress, Rosalind, and Tom’s ex-mistress Kate Shelton whose sister Audrey was,
however, real and as Lady Walsingham was an influential figure in the court of
James I after Elizabeth’s death. Tom himself is a fictional figure but his
family from the Border between England and Scotland certainly existed. All in
all a great read. Recommended.
Tonkinwas born 1
January 1950 in Ulster, son of an RAF officer. He spent much of his youth
travelling the world from one posting to another. He went to school at Portora
Royal, Enniskillen and Palmer's, Grays. He sang, acted, and published poetry, winning
the Jan Palac Memorial Prize in 1968. He studied English with Seamus Heaney at
Queen's Belfast. His first
novel, Killer, was published in 1978.
His work has included the acclaimed "Mariner" series that have been
critically compared with the best of Alistair MacLean,
and Hammond Innes.
More recently he has been working on a series of detective thrillers with an
born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven
years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice.
Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional
work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of
her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published
late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal
flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a
third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology –
and is now concentrating on her own writing.