Blood and Ink

Written by DK Marley
Review by Steve Donoghue

On May 20th, 1593, incendiary playwright Christopher Marlowe came before Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Council to answer pointed questions about certain rumored opinions of his regarding the Protestant church and the Christian faith. The meeting’s conclusion was ambiguous: Marlowe walked out a free man (instead of being handed over to torturers, as happened to his flat mate and friend, Thomas Kyd, under identical circumstances), but he was ordered to keep himself instantly available to the Council—almost certainly a warning that further charges were pending. Ten days later, Marlowe was killed in a tavern in Deptford. The man who killed him received a royal pardon, and Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave.

Needless to say, this state of affairs has rankled conspiracy-minded history buffs for centuries, and perhaps rightly so: virtually every detail raises murky questions of the kind that almost certainly will not attend my own death, or yours. Over the years, dozens of theories have been put forward to explain what really happened that day in Deptford and why—and novelists have been quick to follow suit.

DK Marley’s exhaustively researched and spryly written novel Blood and Ink follows in the tradition of such minor-key classics as Anthony Burgess’ A Dead Man in Deptford, and the central premise of Marley’s book—that Marlowe only faked his death in 1593 in order to escape the attentions of the Privy Council—will be familiar to followers of the Shakespearean authorship question (Shakespeare, needless to say, features prominently here). Marley has sifted through a phenomenal amount of research, but along the way she hasn’t forgotten to tell a first-rate and gripping story, adorned in many places by some very pretty turns of phrase. We may never have a final resolution to the tangled questions Marley raises, but as long as we get such strong and enjoyable novels as this one out of the tangle, we shouldn’t complain.