4.6 5
by Rory Clements

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In this ingenious debut, Rory Clements introduces John Shakespeare, Elizabethan England’s most remarkable investigator, and delivers a tale of murder and conspiracy that succeeds brilliantly as both historical fiction and a crime thriller.

In a burnt-out house, one of Queen Elizabeth’s aristocratic cousins is found murdered, her young flesh


In this ingenious debut, Rory Clements introduces John Shakespeare, Elizabethan England’s most remarkable investigator, and delivers a tale of murder and conspiracy that succeeds brilliantly as both historical fiction and a crime thriller.

In a burnt-out house, one of Queen Elizabeth’s aristocratic cousins is found murdered, her young flesh marked with profane symbols. At the same time, a plot to assassinate Sir Francis Drake, England’s most famous sea warrior, is discovered—a plot which, if successful, could leave the country utterly defenseless against a Spanish invasion. It’s 1587, the Queen’s reign is in jeopardy, and one man is charged with the desperate task of solving both cases: John Shakespeare. With the Spanish Armada poised to strike, Mary Queen of Scots awaiting execution, and the pikes above London Bridge decorated with the grim evidence of treachery, the country is in peril of being overwhelmed by fear and chaos. Following a trail of illicit passions and family secrets, Shakespeare travels through an underworld of spies, sorcerers, whores, and theater people, among whom is his own younger brother, the struggling playwright, Will. Shadowed by his rival, the Queen’s chief torturer, who employs his own methods of terror, Shakespeare begins to piece together a complex and breathtaking conspiracy whose implications are almost too horrific to contemplate. For a zealous and cunning killer is stalking England’s streets. And as Shakespeare threatens to reveal a madman’s shocking identity, he and the beautiful woman he desires come ever closer to becoming the next martyrs to a passion for murder and conspiracy whose terrifying consequences might still be felt today….

Editorial Reviews

Patrick Anderson
…engrossing…There is a great deal going on in this novel—too much perhaps—but one's interest does not fade.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

William Shakespeare's older brother, John, plays sleuth in Clements's excellent debut, billed as an Elizabethan thriller. While Queen Elizabeth hesitates to sign the death warrant for Mary, Queen of Scots, her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, fears the Spanish have sent an assassin to England to kill the country's greatest naval hero, Sir Francis Drake. John, Walsingham's "assistant secretary and chief intelligencer," suspects the conspiracy against Drake may be connected with a murder John's investigating-the stabbing death of Lady Blanche Howard, whose mutilated corpse was found in a burning London building. His inquiries put him at odds with Richard Topcliffe, a fanatical servant of the queen known for his taste for torture and anti-Catholic zeal, who threatens to expose John's father's secret Catholic sympathies. The characters, action and period detail are all solid, though some may wish the end notes had provided information on the historical John Shakespeare. (May)

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Library Journal
In this novel rich with historical detail, a relative of Queen Elizabeth's is murdered, and William Shakespeare's investigator brother, John, must solve the case as well as foil a plot to assassinate Sir Francis Drake. Audie Award winner Simon Vance (see Behind the Mike, LJ 11/15/08) dexterously portrays the broad range of highbrow and lowbrow characters. For fans of mysteries and historical novels set in Elizabethan England. [The Bantam hc was recommended "for readers who liked Marie Brennan's historical fantasy Midnight Never Comes...or Karen Harper's 'Poyson Garden' mystery series," LJ 5/15/09.—Ed.]—J. Sara Paulk, Fitzgerald-Ben Hill Cty. Lib., Fitzgerald, GA
School Library Journal

Adult/High School

This complicated, dark mystery reveals the Elizabethan world as a damp and smelly place, and the baser side of human life is shown throughout. The story concerns the brutal death of an aristocratic girl, the attempted assassination of Sir Francis Drake, and the search for two Jesuit priests on the loose from the Continent. The fear of impending attack from the Armada pervades the atmosphere, and there are horrific actions by both sides in the battles between British Catholics and Protestants. John Shakespeare, William's brother, is a Queen's deputy, pitted against his evil colleague, Richard Topcliffe, in the search for answers to the death of the girl, finding the priests, and thwarting any assassination attempt on the queen. Whores ply their trade, crusty sailors and ill-tempered gaolers leer in every corner, and Topcliffe tortures just about anyone he can. But Shakespeare has a strong sense of compassion, thoughtfulness, and loyalty to the queen. He's also portrayed as being more the norm for the time and place than the religious zealots, but could his nemesis be so consistently evil? While that polarity may be for the sake of a good tale, the heartbreaking circumstances of the lives at the lowest rungs of society seem historically accurate. The quality of the writing; complexity of the plot; and vivid descriptions of torture, lasciviousness, and everyday treacherousness make for a compelling tale.-Connie Williams, Kenilworth Jr. High, Petaluma, CA

From the Publisher
"Excellent.... The characters, action and period detail are all solid." —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
John Shakespeare Series, #1
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

ROSE DOWNIE SAT ON THE COLD COBBLES, CRADLING a swaddled baby that was not hers.

She leaned her aching back against the wall of the imposing stone house, close to its arched oak door. Under any other circumstance, nothing could have brought her near this building where baleful apprehension hung heavy in the air like the stink of tallow, but the man who lived here, Richard Topcliffe, was her last hope. She had been to the court of law, and the justice merely shook his head dismissively and said that even had he believed her-and that, he said with a scowl, was as unlikely as apple blossom in November-there was nothing he could do for her.

The constable had been no more helpful. “Mistress Downie,” he said, “put the baby in a bag like a kitten and throw it in the Thames. What use is it alive? I promise you, in God's name, that I will not consider the killing a crime but an act of mercy, and you shall never hear another word of the matter.”

Now, outside Topcliffe's house in the snow-flecked street, close by St. Margaret's churchyard in Westminster, Rose sat and waited. She had knocked at the door once already, and it had been answered by a sturdy youth with a thin beard who looked her up and down with distaste and told her to go away. She refused and he closed the door in her face. The intense cold would have driven anyone else home to sit at the fireside wrapped in blankets, but Rose would not go until she had seen Topcliffe and begged him to help.

The bitter embers of sunlight dipped behind the edifices of St. Margaret's and the Abbey, and the cold grew deeper. Rose was fair, young, no more than seventeen with a face that, in other times, sparkled with smiles. She shivered uncontrollably in her heavy gowns and clutched the baby close to share what little warmth she had. Occasionally she lifted a large, well-formed breast from her garments to feed the infant; the milk was free-flowing and rich and her need of relief was almost as insistent as the child's hunger. Steam rose from her breast in the icy winter air. The child sucked at her with ferocity and she was thankful for it. Monstrous as she considered the baby, some instinct still made her keep it and feed it, even though it was not hers. The day moved on into darkness, but she was as immovable as stone.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Excellent.... The characters, action and period detail are all solid." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Meet the Author

Simon Vance has recorded over four hundred audiobooks and has earned over twenty AudioFile Earphones Awards, including for his narration of Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. He is also the recipient of five coveted Audie Awards, including one for The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, and he was named an AudioFile Best Voice of 2009.

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Martyr 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1587 Queen Elizabeth considers the consequences of executing her prime rival Mary, Queen of Scots vs. keeping the threat of revolt by leaving her alive. At the same time, English spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham learns of an assassination plot from a reliable source that the Spanish want to kill naval hero Sir Francis "El Draque" Drake; his murder would cause havoc in the country as he has caused trouble for Spain and known for sailing aroud the world. Walsingham assigns assistant secretary and chief intelligencer John Shakespeare to investigate the scheme and quickly concludes the Drake plot is tied to the murder of a relative of the Queen Lady Blanche Howard, whose corpse mutilated with numerous stabbings was found in a London fire. John's inquiries angers the Queen's loyal supporter Richard Topcliffe, who uses torture to obtain confessions from Her Highness' enemies especially Catholics. Richard warns John to back off or he will come after Shakespeare's father, who empathizes with Catholics, and insure his brother's writing and acting career fails. This is a superb Elizabethan thriller starring Will's older brother John just prior to the execution of Mary and a tear before the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The investigations into the murder of Elizabeth's cousin and the conspiracy to kill Drake are top rate especially the way Rory Clements ties them together. With a deep look at the era as well, Elizabethan period and historical mystery fans will appreciate this delightful novel. Harriet Klausner
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reviewerMR More than 1 year ago
As a fan of historical fiction i found this book to be an excellent mystery, with plenty of action and interesting characters.