cover image A Tip for the Hangman

A Tip for the Hangman

Allison Epstein. Doubleday, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-385-54671-3

Epstein’s diverting debut gallivants through Elizabethan England clutching the breeches of playwright Christopher Marlowe, here in service to the queen as a spy. Kit, as Marlowe is called, is rarely caught writing his “mighty line.” He’s too deep into espionage, uncovering Catholic conspiracies. Having infiltrated the household of Mary, Queen of Scots and foiling the Babington Plot, Kit has a crisis of conscience over Mary’s execution. After he is caught spying by Catholic rebels, he gets out of the jam by claiming to be a double agent working on their behalf, then travels to the Netherlands to counterfeit gold coin for the Catholic cause. His Protestant minders track and arrest all involved, but while Kit’s treasonous friends go to the gallows, he is set free. Epstein takes liberties with Kit’s ultimate fate (the circumstances of his murder remain disputed), but in Kit she also creates a Marlowe too all-over-the-map to be plausible. Kit’s lover, Tom, accuses him of seeking out danger, but rapid-fire POV changes necessary to advance the action-packed plot prevent the reader from getting a full sense of him, and the romance passages are the stuff of bodice rippers. Still, it’s a fun escapade. (Feb.)