Class and Murder in Shakespeare’s England

The Players’ Boy Is Dead: A Shakespearian Murder Mystery, by Leonard Tourney, (Endeavour Press), 169 pages, release date 24 March, 2016

The Players’ Boy Is Dead (note that Shakespeare does not play a significant role in this book despite its subtitle) is an historical mystery that works reasonably well in both categories, but never truly captivates. It kept me reading, but when I’d finished, I could put it aside easily. It’s not the sort of book that lingers.

Clothier Matthew Stock serves as village Constable, reporting to Magistrate Sir Henry Saltmarsh. But what is Stock to do when the murders start piling up and the evidence points to Lord Saltmarsh himself? First, a boy traveling with a group of players, taking the female roles, is found murdered. Then, there’s a suspicious suicide. This is followed by a roadside accident that may not have been an accidental at all.

The Players’ Boy Is Dead illustrates some interesting facets of life at the turn of the 18th Century. Tourney shows us a class-bound society, where changes in status are both difficult and dangerous. He offers a potentially engaging mystery, but gives readers few clues, so that the resolution feels as if it comes by happenstance as much as anything else. The most interesting aspect of the novel is its depictions of the theater scene in London and rural England.

If you’re a fan of historical mysteries, you’ll find diversion in this title, but it’s not apt to prove satisfactory for those not already committed to the genre.

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