Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Martyr by Rory Clements

Elizabethan England is probably associated in most people’s minds with dark deeds, notorious spymasters and religious strife – although things were better under Elizabeth than they had been under her sister Mary, being Catholic was still dangerous and recusants were expected to demonstrate their allegiance to the new church. Conspiracy was rife – England was surrounded by Catholic countries and, with her cousin Mary Queen of Scots* awaiting execution for plotting against Elizabeth, there was a very real danger of invasion. A plot to murder Sir Francis Drake would, if successful, throw the English fleet into disarray and open the way to England’s enemies. John Shakespeare (brother of the more famous Will) is chief intelligencer to Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s spymaster, and it is his task to uncover the plot. It must be a Catholic conspiracy, but could it be linked to the murder of a young woman who is known to have Catholic sympathies? Thwarting Shakespeare’s efforts is the brutal torturer Richard Topcliffe, a man who enjoys his work and despises Shakespeare.

Although I thought the plot moved a little slowly at times, there are some gripping moments and loads of period atmosphere, which bodes well.  Historical crime is rather fashionable at the moment, and a well-written series is always welcome. There are already two sequels to Martyr, exploring the darker corners of the period, and it’s good to have an author’s website with some nice pictures of Elizabethan houses, a lexicon, and information about some of the real people who appear in the books. 

The third in the series, Prince, has just been published and both it and I like the look of the plots for both it and the second book, Revenger. But I have to admit that I'd order them from the library rather than buy them.

My copy came courtesy of Lovereading.

* Apologies to anyone who read my original version in which I made a most egregious error!


  1. I'll be passing on this one as I can see the historical errors would drive me mad. Since when were Elizabeth I and Mary QOS half sisters?

    1. Oh good grief! That was me! I'm going to edit it so as not to mislead anyone else. My excuse is that I wrote it in a hurry :-(