If you’re looking for a swashbuckling adventure story, check out A Prisoner in Malta by Phillip DePoy. In this fast-moving historical mystery novel featuring Christopher Marlowe, the 19-year-old poet and playwright swashes buckles with the best of them. Naturally, he comes out on top (since this is, after all, the first book in a series).
But Kit Marlowe isn’t the only character seized from the pages of history. The book is crammed with historical figures, including the man to whom the term “spymaster” was first applied: Sir Francis Walsingham. Walsingham was Queen Elizabeth I‘s Principal Secretary and her last line of defense against the many Catholic plotters who’d set out to kill her. And, yes, you guessed it: Walsingham drafts Marlowe into the action to foil the most ambitious of those plots.
A Prisoner in Malta (Christopher Marlowe #1) by Phillip DePoy (2016) 321 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
A story grounded in historical events
The historical background to this tale is as well known as any in the long, troubled saga of the English throne. Queen Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, had reigned for 25 years by 1583, when the novel is set. But her position was far from secure. The powerful Spanish Empire schemed with Catholic sympathizers in England to replace Elizabeth with her Catholic cousin, Queen Mary of Scots. An English assassin would murder the Queen; simultaneously, Mary would travel to London while Spanish troops and mercenaries invaded the country from the Continent. Eventually, as we know, Walsingham succeeded in discovering and foiling the plot. He expelled the Spanish ambassador, thwarted the invasion, executed the English nobles who had engineered the conspiracy, and imprisoned and eventually beheaded Mary.
There are hints in the historical record that Christopher Marlowe may have had something to do with these events. In an investigation conducted four years later, the Privy Council ruled that “he had done her Majestie good service, & deserved to be rewarded for his fathfull dealinge.” However, in 1583, Marlowe was a student at Cambridge University, a tavern-goer and brawler, and a budding poet. If he was in some way connected to Walsingham, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of it.
A stirring historical mystery novel starring Christopher Marlowe
Here’s what to expect from A Prisoner in Malta:
- Delightful portraits of Marlowe, Walsingham, Walsingham’s spirited 16-year-old daughter, and Queen Elizabeth’s Portuguese-Jewish chief physician, Roderigo Lopez;
- well-researched scenes set in Cambridge, London, and the island of Malta;
- endless action, typically involving swords, daggers, and muskets; and
- so high a body count you’ll lose track of it.
About the author
Phillip DePoy is the author of 20 novels and 43 plays. He won the Edgar Award for one of his plays. He is better known to readers for his series of Foggy Moskowitz novels. A Prisoner in Malta is the first of two Christopher Marlowe mysteries he’s written so far. DePoy is also a performance artist.
For additional reading
I’ve reviewed two other historical mysteries set during this period: Murder by Misrule (Francis Bacon Mystery #1) by Anna Castle (A lawyer is murdered in the Elizabethan Age) and To Shield the Queen (Ursula Blanchard #1) by Fiona Buckley (A worthy murder mystery set in the court of Queen Elizabeth I).
This is one of several books about Famous people as detectives in fact and fiction.
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For an abundance of great mystery stories, go to Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
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