Death by Disputation

Written by Anna Castle
Review by Eileen Stephenson

Francis Bacon is spymaster to his uncle William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I’s chief advisor, in this novel. He recruits young Thomas Clarady to go undercover at Cambridge University in 1587 to learn more about the increasingly rebellious religious zealots, later known as Puritans. This is the second in a mystery series involving Francis Bacon, Thomas Clarady and their friends. Spicing the mix in this volume are the writers Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nash. While the religious controversies of the period are what send Clarady to Cambridge, matters take a deadly turn when he discovers his tutor’s body, apparently a suicide by hanging. This being a mystery, we soon learn it was no suicide.

Early on, I wondered if spying or detective work was the best profession for young Thomas since it took him some time to reach the conclusion that the suicide was, in fact, murder. But he grew into his role, aided by the clever Marlowe and with some guidance coming by letter from Bacon.

This nicely plotted mystery does not give away the murderer’s identity until the very end – always a plus in my estimation. In the meantime, there are plenty of complications to the story to hold a reader’s interest – multiple romantic involvements for Tom, other nefarious crimes being discovered, and comic misunderstandings between Tom and Bacon and the rest of his crew.

I enjoyed learning a little about the controversial non-conformist Puritans in this delightful mystery. The author, who has three books in the series, recommends reading the books in order since the characters’ relationships build with each novel. However, I had no trouble picking up what was happening among them, in this second of the three. I would recommend Death by Disputation to any fan of historical mysteries, or to anyone interested in what went on in Elizabethan England outside the royal court.

E-edition reviewed