Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shelf Life [adult]

Shakespeare’s Rebel By C.C. Humphreys

The best swashbuckling tale-teller since Raphael Sabatini, C.C. Humphreys’ latest novel crosses a number of genres. Mystery, history, the political espionage of Elizabeth I’s court (long after her cousin Mary Stuart has been dispatched), and of course, swordplay. But the hero, John Lawley is not just a mercenary soldier-for-hire, his first love is the stage – specifically, setting fights for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, in the company of one William Shakespeare. We first meet our hero as he is coming out a hangover of epic proportions; a man given to legendary alcoholic tears whenever upset is not generally the heroic type, but Humphreys gives Lawley a few things to strive toward – the woman he has always loved, a son who shows promise for the stage, and most importantly, the will to avoid getting stuck within the political machinations of Queen Elizabeth, her soldier-lover Robert Deveraux, and her chief minister, Robert Cecil (grandson of one Lord Burleigh, if you’ve seen Mary Stuart at the Stratford Festival). No such luck, as Deveraux depends on him to keep his warrior spirit up when he is ordered to invade Ireland and bring back a traitor, Cecil wants him to spy on Deveraux, and Elizabeth, who comes to realize she is more closely connected to Lawley than either is comfortable with, wants Lawley to use his friendship with Shakespeare to persuade him to produce the most patriotic of plays during the tense final years of her reign. Easier done than said, as Lawley and the players find – the public tide has turned, they demand more of their theatre, and they might – just might – be ready for Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy of all, the play Lawley is afraid will ultimately consume his friend.  Shakespeare’s Rebel is Humphreys best since his first, The French Executioner, but even fans of his Jack Absolute series will find subtle connections therein. A thoroughly researched, enjoyable and meaty summer read. Find it, and other titles reviewed in this column at under the tag Shelf Life Reviewed.

This review appears in The Stratford Gazette on July 18, 2013. Written by Robyn Godfrey, Librarian.

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