The year is 1587. One of Queen Elizabeth's cousins is found murdered, her flesh marked with profane symbols. A plot to assassinate Sir Francis Drake, England's most famous sea warrior, is discovered. One man is charged with the desperate task of solving both cases: John Shakespeare. Shadowed by his rival, the Queen's chief torturer, Shakespeare travels through an underworld of spies, sorcerers, whores, and theater people—including his younger brother, the struggling playwright Will—to piece together a complex conspiracy, the implications of which are almost too horrific to contemplate. For a zealous and cunning killer is stalking England's streets. And as Shakespeare threatens to reveal the madman's identity, he and the beautiful woman he desires come ever closer to becoming the next martyrs to the cause.
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In this ingenious debut, Rory Clements introduces John Shakespeare, Elizabethan England’s most remarkable investigator, and delivers a tale of murder and conspiracy that succeeds brilliantly as both historical fiction and a crime thriller.
In a burnt-out house, one of Queen Elizabeth’s aristocratic cousins is found murdered, her young flesh marked with profane symbols. At the same time, a plot to assassinate Sir Francis Drake, England’s most famous sea warrior, is discovered—a plot which, if successful, could leave the country utterly defenseless against a Spanish invasion. It’s 1587, the Queen’s reign is in jeopardy, and one man is charged with the desperate task of solving both cases: John Shakespeare. With the Spanish Armada poised to strike, Mary Queen of Scots awaiting execution, and the pikes above London Bridge decorated with the grim evidence of treachery, the country is in peril of being overwhelmed by fear and chaos. Following a trail of illicit passions and family secrets, Shakespeare travels through an underworld of spies, sorcerers, whores, and theater people, among whom is his own younger brother, the struggling playwright, Will. Shadowed by his rival, the Queen’s chief torturer, who employs his own methods of terror, Shakespeare begins to piece together a complex and breathtaking conspiracy whose implications are almost too horrific to contemplate. For a zealous and cunning killer is stalking England’s streets. And as Shakespeare threatens to reveal a madman’s shocking identity, he and the beautiful woman he desires come ever closer to becoming the next martyrs to a passion for murder and conspiracy whose terrifying consequences might still be felt today...
Question: Martyr is your first book. What did you do before you became a novelist?
Rory Clements: Before coming to Norfolk, in the east of England, I was a national newspaper journalist in London. Journalism is the worst and best of careers. The worst because you are always the bystander, watching other people saving lives, making world-changing decisions, winning tournaments; the best because I love the company of journalists.
Q: How did you adjust from living a fast-paced life in London, to moving to a village in the country?
RC: I loved the city, but felt it was time for a change. At first, I feared I would miss the pace and noise, but I couldn't be happier. Norfolk is simply magical—full of wide open spaces and birdsong. My wife and I live in an old farmhouse, parts of which are believed to date from 1675. It has a mellow redbrick frontage which was probably added in about 1800. The good thing about old farmhouses is that the ceilings are low, which means it is easy to keep snug and warm in winter.
We don’t have pets, but then we don’t really need them because we have so many wild animals in the garden—moles, frogs (they seem to live in the utility room), shrews, ducks (sometimes to be found in the kitchen), many different songbirds, even the occasional fallow deer.
Apart from the lack of mountains, Norfolk is perfect. I haven’t seen a traffic warden since I have been here, though I am sure there must be one or two skulking somewhere.
Q: You are fascinated by the Elizabethan world. What do you make of Queen Elizabeth?
RC: I doubt she was a nice person. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest she could be a vicious old crone at times. But she did keep the theatres open in defiance of the killjoy Puritans. Without her, there would have been no William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe or Ben Jonson. Unfortunately the Puritans are still with us, doing their best to make life miserable and risk-free for everyone else.
Q: Do you have any habits that have become part of your daily writing process?
RC: Well, because I often work late at night, I start the day very slowly. I make my own version of mocha using strong coffee, cocoa, milk and sugar, then do a sudoku puzzle to fire up the brain.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
RC: My advice to would-be novelists is this: have a great story (no amount of brilliant, poetic writing will disguise a weak tale) and try to make every sentence count. If the readers are bored, it's the author's fault, not theirs.
Additionally, I would advise writers and journalists to become Samaritans. This is a UK organization of volunteers who help distressed and suicidal people simply by listening, either on the phone or in person. The volunteers bring comfort to an enormous number of people—but also do wonders for themselves, by gaining insight into the lives of others and the human condition generally. In recent years, Samaritans have also offered an email service, which is used by people all around the world, especially north America.
(Photo © Naomi Clements)About the Author:
Rory Clements, a former features editor and associate editor of Today, now writes full-time in an idyllic corner of Norfolk, England.
Simon Vance, a former BBC Radio presenter and newsreader, is a full-time actor who has appeared on both stage and television. He has recorded over eight hundred audiobooks and has earned five coveted Audie Awards, and he has won fifty-seven Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which has named him a Golden Voice.
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