Christopher Marlowe spies on the papists favoring Mary, the Scottish queen.
Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, instructs Cambridge alumnus Kit Marlowe, now eking out a living as a playwright, to head for the English College in Rheims, where it’s believed that Matthew Baxter, the most recent tried and convicted papal fanatic, has gone to escape the London hangman. Alongside Kit, as he ferrets out information harmful to the crown, are code-breaker Thomas Phelippes, vintner Solomon Aldred and former don Michael Johns. They get help from two harlots, one of whom was in bed with Father Laurenticus when his throat was cut. That made him the third English College victim, soon to be joined by a fourth. A so-called Geneva ring is left by his side, but one of the doxies has secreted a scrap of paper that may hold a coded message. Fortified by much drinking of claret and breakfasting on oats, cast members follow one another through dark alleys and back entrances to the college. They discover a secret crypt housing dead Catholics and make many attempts to decipher substitution codes. Kit is forced to invent several cover stories for himself. When he sets a trap to identify the English traitor, he catches someone he hadn’t suspected and ends up offering unexpected thanks to Baxter, who steps in just in time to save his life, allowing him to return to London for another confrontation with rival playwright Robert Greene (Witch Hammer, 2012, etc.), who has stolen his newest work, Tamburlaine.
Kit has charm, and the English College full of exiled priests makes for an interesting setting, but there are almost as many conspiracies as hourly Masses.