An Elizabethan sleuth investigates a murder on one of Sir Francis Drake’s ships.
Plymouth, 1585. In a letter to Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s Master Secretary, Drake explains that the suicide of crewman Robert Dunne prevents the good ship Elizabeth Bonaventure from setting sail on its voyage to the New World but asks that the queen not be told yet. Enter the brilliant but notorious Giordano Bruno (Sacrilege, 2012, etc.), summoned secretly by Drake through Sir Philip Sidney, the Queen’s Master of the Ordnance. Sidney dangles the possibility of amnesty in London for the excommunicated monk and spy. Privately, Drake confesses his conviction to Sidney and Bruno that Dunne was murdered by someone onboard and that the killer will strike again if he’s not apprehended. Bruno’s investigation begins at the House of Vesta, a brothel frequented by Dunne, where shady characters may have sought to use him to get at supposed hidden riches belonging to Drake. Other clues include Dunne’s gambling debts, theological scholars exploring the story of Judas Iscariot, and resistance from the not-so-grieving widow (what’s that about?). A prostitute named Eve seems to hold all the answers. She directs them to Dunne’s shabby lodgings on Rag Street, where more evidence awaits, including a convenient letter. Lady Drake is thrilled by the arrival of a royal Portuguese visitor who could facilitate Drake’s departure, in effect stopping Bruno’s investigation.
Parris’ fourth Giordano Bruno mystery is long, leisurely, and labyrinthine, written in an ornate formal voice that echoes its era.