Black Death

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

M J Trow continues his Kit Marlowe mysteries with Black Death in Elizabethan London and at court.  Kit is entrusted to find the murderer of a cherished nursemaid.  Madness, murder and mayhem ensue.  See the underside of court and London life.
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It’s 1592 London and playwright/sleuth Christopher Marlowe receives a letter from arch enemy Robert Greene shortly after his death to investigate it as a homicide. Unable to resist the unusual request, Marlowe investigates as the plague stalks London, theatres are shut down for fear of the plague spreading, and magi abound with false but pricy hopes for salvation. Adding to the mystery is the disappearance of Kit’s friend, stage manager Tom Sledd and further random murders that Marlowe believes are related but can’t figure out how.
Black Death has a complex plot with a large cast of real people from the day (William Shaxsper and Sir Robert Cecil to name two) and an even larger cast of fictitious characters. These characters are well drawn out but getting everyone straight and their roles was problematic. The author, however, successfully managed to balance the bleak realities of Elizabethan London with dry wit and insight. Most of the time I wondered where the plot was heading, the best sign for a mystery, which completely surprised me at the end with its ingenuity. Marlowe is fearless and undaunted in his dealings and conflicts with the accepted way of thinking and the personages of the times. He is also down to earth in his dealings with everyday people and their issues. 
Black Death will appeal to readers who enjoy a lot of history and actual personages rolled into a solid mystery.
Reviewed for the Historical Novel Society
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There’s a lot going on in this murder mystery story – an unpopular poet (Robert Greene) is murdered, the stage manager of the Rose Theatre goes missing, the plague is ravaging London, a sham “doctor” is taking advantage of the people’s fear of the plague, the former nursemaid of the powerful Cecil family is found murdered in the Cecil’s home and the London theatres have been closed on account of plague. Whew!

Although this is Book 10 in the series, it reads perfectly fine as a standalone. I found it interesting that Kit Marlowe is investigating the murder of a man who he couldn’t stand when he was alive. It adds to both Marlowe’s complicated nature, but also makes the suspect list quite long and varied.

This was my first read in the Kit Marlowe series, but it will certainly not be my last. Trow’s writing is incredibly descriptive, but not in a way that bogs down the story. As I mentioned before, there is A LOT going on here, but at no point did I feel that things were too complicated or too rushed.

There were a lot of aspects to this story that were a nice change to the usual Queens and Kings storylines. There is a heavy focus on theatre life (not a big surprise, considering Marlowe is a playwright), an interesting look at life in Bedlam and a focus on the fear and paranoia that gripped London during the plague season. Instead of the glamour and glitz of court life, this book focuses a lot more on the “real world” – the gritty, hard and dirty life of the common people in Elizabethan England.

I particularly enjoyed Kit Marlowe as a fictional character. He is well-written by Trow and is a bit of a chameleon – he can be friendly, charming, sly, dangerous and tender at any given moment. From what I’ve read about Marlowe’s real-life exploits, perhaps Trow isn’t that far off. Apparently, Marlowe allegedly more than just a playwright. He was remembered as a drinker, a brawler, and rumoured to be a spy who died under mysterious circumstances.

I’m definitely intrigued by Marlowe as a character and am looking forward to going back and reading the first nine books in this series.
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A new novel in a  fast, fun mystery series set in Elizabethan England, witty and entertaining,  a great historical mystery with a touch of plague for a different plot. I  really enjoyed  this mystery and it's characters.
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Pestilence and murder stalk London's streets!

Kit Marlowe, playwrite and sometime agent for the crown! Smart, witty and a pleasing rogue, with a conscience it seems. Yet "Kit Marlowe was dangerous man to know." 
It's September 1592. Pestilence stalks the streets and the theaters have been closed. When Robert Greene, a former fellow student, whose relationship with Kit is one of mutual dislike writes and says someone is trying to kill him Kit pays a visit. Only to find Robert is dead. Not content to leave the matter Kit, in the dead of night, with assistance takes the body out of the grave, collects evidence and finds that indeed Greene has been murdered.
That interfering with the grave leads to another thread, and then another. Indeed the whole story unravels like a plate of stolen delights interwoven into a slippery pasta. One death follows on another and there is a mysterious disappearance of a loved theater worker, Tom Sledd.
Add to this that somewhere in this mix is Sir Robert Cecil, looking for further answers.
I love the portrayal of Will Shaxsper, one of the body snatchers, "who never turned down an opportunity to gather experiences for the plays he knew he could write one day." A sly nod to the eventual rivalry between Marlowe and Shakespeare. Other players include an alchemist, Simon Forman, a" fashionable charlatan and rogue" with his secretive treatments. Hmmm! and a coterie of apprentices.
But when Eunice Brown, one-time nanny to the Cecil family, Noo-Noo, is found murdered powerful people are aroused.
There wasn't a dull moment, and despite the background of cholera, figures roaming out of the mists in protective bird like masks, and murder, this is an enjoyable and rather intriguing read.
BTW the cover becomes so much more appropriate after the read.

A Severn House ARC via NetGalley
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Christopher Marlowe attempts to solve the murder of rival poet Robert Greene in 1592 plague-infested London. Few care a whit for Greene and initially Marlowe must struggle to prove that Greene’s death was a murder. There are several potential suspects (one of whom orders an attack upon him) and Marlowe must navigate through the equally treacherous worlds of Elizabethan theatre, government spymasters and charlatan sorcery. Other murders ensue and Marlowe struggles to find any connection between the victims.
This is the tenth entry in Trow’s series about the ill-fated 16th century poet and dramatist and the second I have read. The story, man hunts murderer, moves quickly with only two subplots running parallel to the main story line, inviting the reader to determine what relevance they have to the murder of Robert Greene. These subplots, of course, make the mystery more complex, but unfortunately, one of them involves a character who is the most obvious suspect from early on, so the suspense factor in this book is rather low.
The strength of the two books I read in this series lies in the imaginative characterizations of the historical characters who populate the action and the period language used in the dialogue. John Dee, mathematician and alchemist, is the closest Marlowe has to an ally and acts as a mentor and devil’s advocate to Marlowe’s hypotheses. The scenes between them were the ones I found most engaging. Most of the other characters act as dramatic foils according to their type and as objects of ridicule they tend to be merely character types, rather than people. The theatre folk are usually buffoons and poseurs, but the ones who are not objects of satire seem real enough. On the other hand, we do see a human side of the Cecils, spymasters to the queen, when the elderly nanny to the younger Cecil becomes one of the victims.  They emerge as more three dimensional than a character like “Shakspear”, who seems more of a literary whipping boy than a person.  
A major irritant factor to me is the use of anachronistic, in this case current popular expressions, in the narration. These do not appear in the dialogue and Trow does a fine job of peppering the dialogue with 16th Century colloquial speech that enriches the text without disabling the reader’s ability to know what the characters are saying. There are several occasions however when the narration becomes jarring as contemporary figures of speech and chichi expressions yanked me right out the world of the first Elizabeth into the world of the current one.
I found this book for the most part to be a fun historical mystery mainly for the antics and dialogue of the characters. I think it must be difficult to hide the culprit when many of the other principal characters are historical figures: making one of them a serial murderer would probably be stepping over a creative line; consequently, they de facto eliminate themselves as suspects. Of the non-historical characters in the book and there are enough of them, there is only one who has any credibility as a viable suspect.
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When enemy Robert Greene sends a letter to Marlowe asking him to save Greene from being murdered, the letter arrives too late. Although they were never friends, Marlowe investigates Greene's murder whilst his colleague from the theatre, Tom Sledd, disappears into Bedlam, and the theatres are closed due to the plague.  

Another entertaining instalment of the Kit Marlowe investigations. An interesting, fast moving plot with many of the usual characters popping up including Shaxper (Shakespeare as a bit of a buffoon), the Cecils, Dr Dee, and Master Sackerson (a bear). I have really grown to like this series, the author brings the late 16th century world to life. I have noticed that the author is slowly encircling Marlowe with characters thought to be involved in what happened to him, and Marlowe himself is making numerous enemies, . Can't wait for the next book. 
Thanks to NetGalley and publishers, Severn House / Crème de la Crime, for the opportunity to read an ARC.
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I love this series and loved this book, it's fun to read and entertaining.
The historical background is well researched as usual, the cast of characters interesting and the mystery is full of twists and turns.
I look forward to reading the next installment in this series.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to Severn House and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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Elizabethan England was a hotbed of conspiracies and political infighting and murder.  Robert Greene is murdered after sending a letter to Kit Marlowe, who now finds himself bound to investigate the death.    He's also getting ready to open his new play and now the stage manager has disappeared and he must find out what happened there as well!  Robert Cecil hovers over all.  Thanks to netgalley for the ARC.  Trow has conjured a fun mystery with lots of atmospherics that will keep fans of the genre happy.
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Black Death by M.J. Trow, Severn House, publishing date 1 July, 2019,

In Black Death our sleuth is Christopher Marlowe, playwright and intelligencer. Robert Greene, a competitor and enemy since their college days, has died after penning a letter to Marlowe claiming he is being murdered and asking Marlowe to bring the killer to justice. From here, the plot grows increasingly complex, with two other possible murders, an epidemic of plague, a subplot set in Bedlam, and both an unscrupulous plague doctor with apprentices and the great alchemist John Dee. Shakespeare—a not particularly bright, not particularly gifted Shakespeare—provides moments of comedy within the action. And, oh yes, there’s a bear. If you have any interest in Tudor history or drama you’ll be delighted with this read that pulls in many of the eras key characters and concerns.
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Loved this, Very immersive. I adore books set during this period. M.J.Trows take is a quick entertaining read.
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Kit Marlowe gets a message from a man he doesn't like, and he's not even sure he wants to read it.  But when it says someone is trying to kill him, it gets Kit's curiosity up and he goes to visit.  Unfortunately, he's already died.  The autopsy points to a plant based poison.  Who poisoned him?

Severn House and Net Galley let me read this book for review (thank you).  It will be published July 1st.

The Black Plague is killing people in the poor part of town, so they close the theaters to avoid the spread of the disease.  It annoys everyone in the theater business, including Kit.  However it gives him more time to find a murderer.

An old woman is killed as well as a young boy.  The woman was strangled, the boy was drowned.  They don't look like the same killer but Kit thinks it is.  As he gets closer to the killer, he decides to take things in his own hands.  He'll kill him himself.  

This has an unexpected ending where Kit finds he was wrong and almost dies.  It's an exciting and suitable ending.
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September 1592 and Kit Marlowe receives a letter from an old enemy, Richard Greene, imploring Kit to investigate his coming death. Events are compounded with the threat of the plague, but with the closure of the theatres it means Kit has the time to investigate. But when other murders occur what is the connection between then all. But has any one missed Tom Stedd the stage manager of the Rose Theatre.
An entertaining and enjoyable read, I really liked this story in the series.
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Another outing in Elizabethan England has Kit Marlowe investigating the death of Robert Greene, one of the first professional writers of the day, and a contemporary of both Marlowe and Shaxsper - the man who referred to the Bard of Avond as an "upstart crow".

Kit receives a message from Greene, no friend of our Kit, asking Marlowe to come to his aid - instead Greene is found dead in mysterious circumstances. In reality, around this time, Greene wrote exposés on the Elizabethan underworld, such as "A Notable Discovery of Coosnage" (1591) and the successful and amusing "A disputation betweene a hee conny-catcher and a shee conny-catcher" (1592).

Against this we have the appearance of the magus Simon Foreman, currently favourite of Elizabeth I, sidelining Dr John Dee, and the disappearance of steadfast Tom Sledd. But London is not only being stalked by a killer but also the Plague, resulting in a closure of the theatres, leaving Kit ample time to investigate.

Marlowe is as witty and irascible as ever; all the usual suspects are present; and red herrings abound.

My copy was actually a Kindle edition.
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Robert Green and Christopher Marlowe are not friends. But when Green believes someone is trying to kill him, he sends a desperate letter to Marlowe, behind for his help. When Green is found dead, Kit believes it is his duty to discover who murdered Green and so undertakes the investigation. At the same time, stage manager Ned Sledd is wrongly taken to Bedlam in lieu of an escaped inmate just days before the opening of one of Marlowe’s new plays. Marlowe has to find the connection between all these events and help his friend. And also, the Spymaster, Robert Cecil, is taking an inordinate interest in things. And there’s plague. What could go wrong?
This is a short, quick read and like other MJ Trow novels I’ve read, it is a fun and witty tale as well. The plot is full of twists and turns and not all is as it appears. The characters, especially Marlowe, are all multidimensional. I really love the little digs at William Shakespeare (spelled here as Shaxper) throughout and the subtle shade thrown on the authorship of his works. There are many literary gems hidden in these pages that appeal to any Anglophile. 
The descriptions of Elizabethan London are also vivid and gritty. So much of that period is romanticized but here, we get the more realistic portrayal of what it might have actually been like - dirty, smelly, and depressing. Oh, and don’t forget the plague! 
A fun and fast read, highly recommended for any lovers of Marlowe, Shaxper :-), or Elizabethan English history in general.
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Black Death is a great historical mystery with a touch of plague for a different plot. I loved this mystery and it's characters.
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This witty and entertaining read is another in the series penned by M.J Trow featuring Kit Marlowe as a detective solving mysteries in late Elizabethan London where plague proliferates and political intrigue and religious intolerance are embedded in a society beset by superstition and fear. When fellow dramatist Robert Greene dies after sending Kit a letter claiming his life is in danger Marlowe begins an investigation that will be comprised of many baffling twists and turns and red herrings. More deaths will follow Greene's but what is the relationship between them all?  

I like historic fiction, books about London's history and crime fiction so this ticked a number of boxes for me. There is much mystery and myth surrounding the life and untimely death of Christopher Marlowe and the allegations that he was indeed a government spy lends itself to such fictional tales of crime solving. Here the author weaves his interpretation and representation of actual events and people to create a fast paced story which contains quite a bit of knowing humour particularly with reference to disputed Elizabethan authorship. The book is also wonderfully descriptive of the dirt, squalor and danger to be found on the streets in London. This is a baffling tale that quickly goes from one scene to another ensuring that the reader is eager to turn to the next page in order to find out the ultimate solution. 

Certainly a fun and entertaining read that will appear to many who like this ever popular genre.
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Every earth is fit for burial

A short, witty and mildly amusing mystery set in Elizabethan London and featuring Kit Marlowe, playwright and spy. The pestilence has struck London and the theatres are closed to prevent contagion, when an old enemy of Marlowe’s writes him a letter, claiming someone is trying to kill him. By the time Marlowe responds, Robert Greene is dead and buried. 

Plague, superstition, Puritanism and Bedlam are not sufficient to stop Marlowe from solving the mystery. This is an entertaining pot-boiler with some sly asides on Elizabethan literature, theatre and authorship.
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Christopher Marlowe has been sent a message by Robert Greene who has never liked him. He needs him to come and save him someone is trying to kill him. Marlowe is too late. Greene is found dead in a plague area. Marlowe and 3 fellows from the Rose Theatre where he is putting on his latest play go dressed as plague doctors to dig up Greene to find cause of death. Marlowe’s friend Tom Sledd finds his night cannot get any worse when Bedlam beckons. This is a tale of many twists and turns from twins drowning to an old nursemaid seeing the light. Marlowe must find the connection to these strange events to stop the next murder. You are taken back to the times of the 1500’s and a time where plague played a big part in superstition and doctors used the stars to predict health.
I was given an ARC of this book by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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