t the library, a copy of Revenger caught my eye. Revenger looked good enough to give a try, except that
I saw it was the second book in a series by Rory Clements. So I put down Revenger and went looking for the first novel, which is
Martyr. Martyr was a good enough read that I will return to Revenger and continue with the further adventures of John Shakespeare.
Martyr is set in London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It is a stressful time - the powerful Spanish are threatening to
invade, and internally the country is wracked with strife between the Catholics and the Protestants. Prior to the rule of Queen Elizabeth, England
was ruled by "Bloody" Queen Mary, who got her nickname because she tried to force all her subjects to embrace the Catholic faith. Now that Elizabeth
rules, the Protestants are persecuting the Catholics. I thought Clements did an excellent job depicting the religious divisions between the citizens.
His portrayal of life in medieval England, showing us prostitutes, pursuivants, printers, priests and pious citizens was well done; clearly Clements has done a
good deal of research.
The tale begins with John Shakespeare investigating the cruel murder of beautiful Lady Blanche Howard - Shakespeare is an investigator
who works for Walsingham, who is the Secretary of Intelligence for the Queen. At the murder site, Shakespeare finds disturbing evidence that suggests
that the young woman may have been involved with Jesuit priests, who have been slipping over to England and advocating against the Queen. Indeed, the
Queen's chief torturer, Topcliffe, has been tasked with finding a trouble-making Jesuit named Robert Southwell and he will use any means to get the information
he needs. Topcliffe turns up at the Howard crime scene, and he and Shakespeare are quickly at odds. Although Shakespeare is loyal to the Queen and wants
Southwell found, he despises Topcliffe's brutal methods for extracting information.
Walsingham entrusts Shakespeare with the job of finding out the truth about a Spanish plot to assassinate Sir Francis Drake. Drake was a legendary
sea captain, reknown for his ability to capture and destroy Spanish ships, so the Spanish fear him most of all. With Drake in charge of the English fleet, the
Spanish fleet might be turned back, despite their superior numbers. If Drake were to be murdered, then it would be
far easier for the Armada to set sail for the invasion of England. Shakespeare must quickly stop the killer, or all of England will be at risk.
John Shakespeare is the older brother of the famous William, but the playwright only makes a cameo appearance in this novel. Perhaps Clements is
saving William for a subsequent case.
During the course of his investigations, Shakespeare encounters a Popish woman named Catherine Marvell. Because Shakespeare and Marvell are
different religions, they exchange harsh words with each other, each of them deploring the crimes committed in the name of God by the other faith. Given their
antipathy toward each other, their subsequent romantic relationship seemed completely out of character. It was this inexplicable romance that prevented me
from rating this book higher. But overall, I enjoyed this well written historical.