cover image The Marlowe Papers

The Marlowe Papers

Ros Barber. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-250-01717-8

Award-winning poet Barber’s debut historical novel perpetuates the oft-told myth that Shakespeare’s plays were really written by the dramatist Christopher Marlowe. Barber’s fictionalized biography of Marlowe (1564–1593) cleverly reveals his adventurous life as a popular playwright and poet, love affairs with men and women, sordid spy missions for Queen Elizabeth, and a faked death to escape being hanged for heresy. Despite the book’s being too long and written in tedious Elizabethan verse, Barber’s skillful plotting makes the work’s premise almost believable. Marlowe’s friends concoct a wild scheme to fake his death in a fight in 1593, and Marlowe flees to Europe, forever exiled as a dead man. However, he has influential friends and continues to write plays as Shakespeare and spy on England’s enemies, most notably Catholic conspirators plotting against the Protestants. Throughout this lengthy tale of plot and counterplot, Marlowe meets fascinating characters, sneaky spies and counterfeiters, gifted poets and playwrights, self-serving noblemen and vicious gutter-snipes. Barber’s vivid portrayal of filthy, stinking London, the horror of the plague, the rampant and bloody religious intolerance, and the squalid daily life of 16th-century Europe are accurate and convincing. Agent: Rupert Heath, the Rupert Heath Literary Agency. (Jan.)