cover image License to Quill

License to Quill

Jacopo della Quercia. St. Martin’s Griffin, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-05965-9

Della Quercia, who successfully blended steampunk and humor in The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy (2014), falls short of that standard in this mildly amusing Tudor historical, in which Thomas Walsingham, an intelligence operative in the service of Elizabeth I, stages Christopher Marlowe’s murder in 1593 to give his agent the chance for a peaceful retirement. The man who administers the supposedly fatal stab wound turns out to be William Shakespeare. In 1604, Guy Fawkes, “a man of many faces,” asks Shakespeare to write a “tragedy about the abuse of power” set in Scotland, a politically delicate request. The playwright reports the request to Walsingham, who asks him to go along with Fawkes’s scheme. The conceit has possibilities, but della Quercia overeggs the pudding by making his hero a 17th-century James Bond. Walsingham, who’s referred to as W, has an attractive assistant named Miss Penny. Shakespeare becomes a member of the Ordnance Office, thus a “Double-O” operative. Many readers will wish for more subtlety. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (Dec.)