As the plague grips London, Christopher Marlowe tries to solve the murder of a theatrical rival.
In 1592, “The Pestilence” is beginning to creep into the city of London. Playwright and sometime sleuth Kit Marlowe (Queen’s Progress, 2018, etc.) is preparing a new production, The Massacre at Paris, when he gets an eerie letter from playwright Robert Greene, who’s recently died under mysterious circumstances. The intensely curious Marlowe can’t help visiting Greene’s boardinghouse and even digging up his grave. His conclusion: “Murder, most foul.” Marlowe enlists the aid of the Queen’s Magus, John Dee, in confirming that Greene was poisoned. Even with the approaching opening of his play, Marlowe’s driven by his compulsion to learn the truth about the death of Greene, who’d been increasingly eccentric and reclusive in recent years. Marlowe revisits Cambridge, where he and Greene were fellow students, for some insight. Dr. Gabriel Harvey claims to have been in attendance shortly after Greene died, reportedly from an overindulgence of wine and herring. But when Marlowe explains that Greene was poisoned, Harvey’s reaction is odd. The deeper significance of this reaction is impressed on Marlowe when, shortly after their meeting, he’s attacked and passes out. From that point on, there’s no turning back from his search for the truth, which is aided considerably by his chance meeting with Richard, an industrious orphan lad. Meanwhile, as plague creeps into the city, the theaters are closed, threatening Marlowe’s livelihood. Trow’s 10th Elizabethan mystery delights with its knowledge of 16th-century theater and its large cast of real-life characters like William Cecil, Richard Burbage, and the murder victim himself.
The mystery is twisty, unpredictable, and ultimately satisfying.