Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem in Elizabethan England

TWO QUESTIONS HAVE ALWAYS PLAGUED HISTORIANS:  HOW COULD Christopher Marlow, a known spy and England's foremost playwright, be suspiciously murdered and quickly buried in an unmarked grave - just days before he was to be tried for treason?  HOW COULD William Shakespeare replace Marlowe as England's greatest playwright virtually overnight - when Shakespeare had never written any thing before and was merely an unknown actor?  Historians have noted that the Bard of Stratford was better known at that time "for holding horses for the gentry while they watched plays".  The Shakespeare Conspiracy is a historical novel that intertwines the two mysteries and then puts the pieced together to offer the only plausible resolution.  The novel, a wild romp through gay 16th Century Elizabethan England, is a rapidly unfolding detective story filled with comedy, intrigue, murder and illicit love.  And most importantly, all recorded events, persons, dates and documents are historically accurate,  You will ... Get the scandalous view of the real William Shakespeare, with his sexual peccadilloes, illegitimate children and mistresses ... Wander through the gay world of Christopher Marlowe, when it was acceptable to be homosexual just so long as one stayed within one's own class - ad did Kings like James I, Edward II and others ...  Observe Inspector Henry Maunder matching wits with Christopher Marlowe's patron, Sir Thomas Walsingham - one cleverly hiding the facts and other cunningly discovering the truth ...  Watch the arguments unfold, showing the actual reasons tat many historians believe that it could only have been Christopher Marlowe writing tall those great works.  It's a tale of murder, mayhem and manhunts in the underbelly of London as the Back Plague scourges the country and the greatest conspiracy plot of all time is hatched.  It's ... The Shakespeare Conspiracy!

Elizabethan history has been a topic of great discussion, deliberation (and is one of this reader’s favourite historical periods).  It is often the topic of many mysteries not least those many novels based on the work of the astrologer John Dee.  This is a period of history that is extremely rich in more ways than one.  The Tudor era is a topic that this reader is particularly interested in the many works of John Dee but for many other reasons including the Witch Holocaust and the Shakespeare ‘who was he really’ question (previously dealt with to some extent in the excellent novel The Rose Labyrinth??).

This novel, in particular, proposes that Shakespeare was a member of the infamous ‘School of the Night’ which included Christopher Marlowe,George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, and Sir Walter Raleigh (and is mentioned in Love’s Labour Lost).

This novel is apparently the result of 10 years of extensive and meticulous research which is evident (not least in the many appendices that are added at the end of the novel which make least 20% of the total of the novel (according to my Kindle) but not having read it all this reader is not sure how much of this is repeated from the novel itself.

This novel proposed an alternative reason for Marlowe’s early death and the sudden resurgence of Shakespeare; and for this reader had a certain ring of truth to it.  What did rankle this reader is that there are just too may modernisms used in the narrative as whole to totally immerse this novel in the Elizabethan era; an era familiar to most historians and others.

All that said the characters, for me, felt rather one dimensional.  It seemed that that the author had spent so much time on finding the footing of this novel that he did not establish plausible and fascinating characters.  Another element that detracted from this novel were the numerous spelling and punctuation errors which this reader hopes are fund before final publication.

Even though this period of history is shrouded in mystery the novel is written in an easy manner and flows from one historical detail to the next be it in England, or Italy; Padua or Venice, Verona, Milan or Sicily.  Having not visited many of these places I cannot say whether their portrayal is accurate.

Although this is a well-researched novel, founded on fact, it is not necessary for the reader to know every miniscule detail that occurred during this historic period.  Yet despite this meticulous research there were still some historical errors such as people drinking tea some 100 or so years early.  Also there was the introduction of 21st century language with did not fit with the telling of the story at all.

Although overall the story is interesting the ‘history professor’ butts in very frequently giving us extraneous background material that would have been better left in the appendices (as detailed as they are).

If you want an alternative point of view of this period in English history you cannot go far wrong but be aware of the provisos in this review.

Full Disclosure: I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I rated this 4 stars on Netgalley and 'I liked it' on Goodreads (3 stars) and Amazon (4 stars).

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