Peterson’s latest period piece (An Unmourned Death, 2002, etc.) presents Anne Hathaway Shakespeare as the narrator of an Elizabethan mystery.
William Shakespeare wasn’t always the Shakespeare we revere. In his salad days in Stratford-upon-Avon and London, he’s a humble thespian, not yet a notable playwright, though he and his wife do have an interesting set of acquaintances: Warwickshire farmers, actors, lords of the realm, even the Queen of England. Most interesting of all is their neighbor Richard Quiney, a rotter who’s accumulated so many enemies over the many, many years of this fictional memoir that it’s no surprise when he is found stabbed to death in the garden of the Shakespeare home. Will is arrested and tried but acquitted when a mysterious witness from Anne’s past supports his alibi. The sheriff is clearly beyond his depth, but Anne knows that Quiney had seduced many women, was a profligate who owed numerous people money and, in all likelihood, sold out his friends, who were at least peripherally involved in a plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth. The nuggets Anne has mined over the years help her find the truth about the murder and identify Shakespeare’s famous “dark lady” to boot.
If only history were so simple as this stroll through Shakespearean legend suggests. Peterson’s heroine, who might have been plucked from the pages of contemporary romance fiction, fails, alas, to impart any flavor of Elizabethan England.