Will Shakespeare struts and frets his hour upon Christopher Marlowe’s stage as a bit player, hoping to parlay success on the boards into a career as a playwright. When a mishap with a prop arquebus kills Shakespeare’s landlady (and, it’s rumored, lover) the future Bard finds himself in the Clink with little hope of escape. Enter ‘Kit’ Marlowe, playwright and part-time secret agent, to sort London’s seedy underbelly and rescue his actor from a plot of graft and blackmail that reaches the highest levels of political power.
Lovers of early English theater (at least, those unencumbered by excessive scholarship) will enjoy this witty, often bawdy, sketch of Elizabethan London. Young Shakespeare a.k.a. Shaxsper comes across as inexperienced but not inept. Despite Marlowe being the main character, there is none of that anti-Stratfordian conspiracy foolishness; Will writes his own sonnets, thank you, and even Marlowe admits they’re quite good. Everyone else gets a mention – Burbage, Alleyn, Faunt, Walsingham and the intriguing Doctor Dee, to name several. At times the action is confusing, with new characters making entrances nearly every chapter and most of them taking on point-of-view duties. The patient reader will manage to keep track of it all, and find the threads tied at the end. Enjoyable, if a bit rough, and recommended.