How exactly I came across Anna Castle‘s Francis Bacon mysteries I don’t remember – but, for once and for a wonder, it wasn’t because of Kit Marlowe.
Well, Marlowe will appear in the second book, yes – but I didn’t know that until after reading Book 1, so there. Wherever I found Murder by Misrule, I was attracted by the idea of Francis Bacon sleuthing around. Bacon, you see, was one remarkable gentleman – scholar, jurist, philosopher, poet, gardener, diplomat, cryptographer and whatnot. Some say he also wrote the whole Shakespeare canon (either alone or with others), but frankly, considering all he wrote and did in his life, I don’t see how he could have found time for thirty-eight plays, two narrative poems, the sonnets… Nor, I think, does he need the Shakespeare canon to be considered a genius.
Anyway, with all his accomplishments, he makes the perfect sleuth, and Anna Castle writes a delightful mystery around him. At the beginning of Murder by Misrule, we find young Francis at Gray’s Inn, trying to pursue a career in the law and regain the Queen’s favour. The trouble is that, at twenty-five, everybody thinks he is too young for almost everything, and his older colleagues regard him as an upstart – especially after he forgot himself enough to suggest a certain reformation of English Law… The Queen was not amused – nor was Francis’ powerful uncle, Lord Burleigh, and the poor lad finds himself banned from Court and an outcast at Gray’s.
When an old barrister is found murdered during a pageant at Westminster, though, a chance seems to present itself. Lord Burleigh fears there may be treason and conspiracy afoot, and needs someone to look into it: who better than his disgraced nephew, who is both quick-witted and eager to prove himself?
So Francis turns sleuth, and, being no man of action, he foists the leg-work on his four pupils: dashing Tom Clarady, steady Ben Whitt, harebrained Lord Stephen Delabere, and fierce little Allen “Trumpet” Trumpington. What with danger, rivalries, misunderstandings, lovely women, brawls and festivities, can Francis and his Franklins run the murderer to earth – possibly by Christmas Eve?
As I said, this book is a delight to read. Life at Gray’s Inn is recreated with its rituals, habits, rivalries and rhythms, and together with a crowded London, it provides a stage for a cast of well-drawn characters – especially the eager, intelligent, anxious, peevish but endearing Francis, and Tom, the stubborn and good-hearted privateer’s son, struggling to find his place and become a gentleman.
To top it all, the language is a joy, with its subtle Elizabethan flavour, and the dialogue sparkles.
If I were to nitpick, one character is built around what has now become a fairly common – and therefore predictable – cliché in historical fiction, especially, for some reason, with Elizabethan/Tudor setting… Very early in the book I began to suspect this might be the case, and hoped I might be wrong – but I wasn’t. Still, that’s a peeve of mine – and even then it didn’t go anywhere close to spoiling what has been a very pleasant read.
So pleasant, in fact, that Book 2, Death by Disputation, is already on my Kindle, set aside for the Reading Week I count on giving myself as both a treat and a vacation as soon as I finish the first draft of my novel – or at least at some time this summer. I can’t wait to see what Tom will be up to, once he is in Cambridge and guided by Bacon by letter, and what Anna Castle will do with Kit Marlowe.
After reading her Francis Bacon, I have the highest hopes.