It’s April 1616, and William Shakespeare is mortally ill-felled, they say, by a fever. But when he calls his estranged friend Simon Saddler to his bedside, Will says he’s been poisoned. Stratford Constable Saddler feels compelled to investigate his old friend’s death in order to discover not only who murdered him, but also how a man once as close as a brother was moved to cuckold Simon and destroy their friendship. The trail may ultimately lead to the discovery of more murders-and a conspiracy at the very highest levels.
It’s not often you run into a book that is anything less than glowing about Shakespeare, yet this one finds a main character who has more than a little reason to be angry with the Bard. Not only did Shakespeare sleep with Simon Saddler’s wife, but there are more than a few people who would like to do in the playwright and someone did. This mystery isn’t so much about Simon finding out who killed Shakespeare, but coming to terms with what his friend became after he moved to London and just how complex and evil the wiles of the nobility are and how corrupting they end up being on everyone. Simon becomes involved not just in trying to unravel who killed Shakespeare, but also in the machinations of a scandal that threatens to ruin the king. As Simon tries to navigate his way through the underworld of London, he slowly begins to understand more about why Shakespeare changed after their friendship in Stratford. Shakespeare isn’t very sympathetic in this novel, as he’s portrayed as being thoroughly consumed with currying favor with the nobility and willing to bed any woman he can find. The mystery is good though and complex enough that it never loses its momentum.
4 out of 5