George V. Reilly

Review: Revenger

Title: Revenger: a John Shake­speare Mystery
Author: Rory Clements
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: 2010
Pages: 448
Keywords: mystery, history
Reading period: 10–25 February, 2015

It’s 1592 and Elizabeth I has ruled England for nearly 35 years. The Virgin Queen has never named her heir, creating both un­cer­tain­ty and op­por­tu­ni­ty. John Shake­speare used to be an "in­tel­li­gencer" for the late Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster. With reluctance, Shake­speare is drawn back into that life when the Earl of Essex insists upon com­mi­sion­ing him to find a woman who should be dead—a survivor of the lost Roanoke settlement has been sighted in London. Essex wants her as does his mysterious ally, a dangerous Irishman called McGunn. Walsingham’s successor, Sir Robert Cecil, also wants Shake­speare to take the commission, as he suspects Essex of treason.

Clements does an excellent job of recreating Eliz­a­bethan England: the sights and smells; the concerns of the day, like plague and popery; the religious schisms that have split families and nations; the intrigues and brutality and treachery. Shake­speare is a decent, capable man in a dangerous position who knows too much yet not enough. He manages to keep his head on his shoulders and also shields his younger brother—an up-and-coming poet—from his own deadly fool­ish­ness.

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