The Other William Shakespeare

The William Shakespeare Detective Agency: The School of Night, Colin Falconer, (Cool Gus Publishing), 177 pages, released October 7, 2014

I have a weakness for mystery novels. I also have a weakness for historical fiction. So when I see a promising historical mystery, I’m caught. Colin Falconer’s The William Shakespeare Detective Agency is latest such book to have reeled me in.

The William Shakespeare of the title is not the playwright. It’s his cousin, just up to London from Stratford, determined to make a more interesting life for himself. Will sees himself as something less than that famous cousin:

Trouble clings to me like a burr to a sheep’s fleece. I don’t know why. I’m not an easy mark, a man my size, I have to duck my head to get through doors, and I’ve put on a bit of muscle these last few years from throwing sheep around at the market and helping at the smithy. Perhaps it’s my manner; I’m not fierce by nature, and it encourages some to see how far they can push me.

Will gets plenty of pushing in this novel. He’s knocked out three times, has his hand cut open by a dagger wielded by a capital-L Lady, is robber repeatedly by the same urchin, and has to wriggle his way out from under his cousin’s “dark lady.”

The historical detail here is pretty good. Falconer certainly captures the fatalism—and the odors—of 16th Century London. On the other hand, as in many such novels, there is more mixing among the classes than one would expect. So the story comes across as both real and unreal.

That Lady who cut his hand open? She hires him to look for her scoundrel of a husband—not because she misses him, but because she hopes to find proof he’s dead. Will takes on this challenge willingly (sorry) and, after the usual kinds of surprises and plot devices, solves the mystery.

OK, it’s not great literature, but it’s fun bedtime reading.