Martyr by Rory Clements
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In this first volume of the series we are introduced to John Shakespeare – the older brother of THAT Shakespeare – who works with Sir Francis Walsingham in the ongoing efforts to protect England, and England’s Queen, Elizabeth, from the intrigues of foreign potentates. The usual target at the time of this novel is in the lead up to the well-known intention of the King of Spain to send an armada to defeat the English on both land and sea, and then return England to the ‘one True Faith’ that is centred on the Pope of Rome.
The task that faces Shakespeare is the tracing of yet another Jesuit priest who, having been smuggled into England, is not only providing spiritual solace to the adherents of the ‘old faith’ but is also actively working to overthrow the status quo. Starting with a heinous murder, we follow the journey of Shakespeare as he attempts to unravel a seemingly impossible tangle of different threads of true and misdirection. It is not until the end of the novel that we come to realise that not all of the threads are connected to each other, and some were meant as deliberate attempts to throw Shakespeare from his appointed task. Although Shakespeare ultimately uncovers the identity of the murderer and foils the plot of the Jesuit priest he is seeking, the pursuit of ‘justice’ that prompts his actions remains unfulfilled by the end of this volume.
Along the way, we watch Shakespeare complicate his own personal life by meeting and falling in love with a lady who has remained a ‘secret Catholic’ and who has lived in a household that at one time gave sanctuary to Jesuit priests. When this becomes known to both Walsingham and to Shakespeare’s great enemy, Topcliffe, the life of our hero is endangered in an era where the merest hint of attachment to the ‘old Faith’ could lead to arrest, interrogation (by which I mean torture) and possible death.
How will Shakespeare respond to these developments? We’ll have to wait and see in the next volume.
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