Wildcat should be on amazon within the next week or so, so keep an eye out everyone – meanwhile, here’s a look at what I’ve been reading recently:
The Laughing Hangman: Edward Marsdon (1996)
A Nicholas Bracewell story
This book was lent to me by a friend and means that, yet again, I’ve fallen into a series midway through (flashbacks of 1356…). That said it’s not a bad read at all, even if I didn’t really get the relationship problems between Nick and Anne. Beyond that the story seemed pretty self-contained and I managed to follow it pretty well.
We begin with Nicholas Bracewell, our hero and bookholder of a troop of actors called the Westfields Men, being asked for help by Anne, his old lover. Philip Robson, the son of Anne’s neighbour /admirer Ambrose, has been writing to his father about his terrible treatment at the Chapel Royal Children theatre and wishes to come home to his family. Given Ambrose’s obvious intentions towards Anne, Nick is not keen on the idea, but he agrees to help for her sake and hopes perhaps to rekindle their friendship.
In the process of this he becomes a witness to the murder of the first of the Laughing Hangman’s victims. He decides to look into it but has worries enough already what with the Westfields Men’s new playwright upsetting the whole troop with his attitude and being threatened by another unknown assailant to boot. He tries to keep his troop together while simultaneously solving a murder, rescuing a child and protecting his playwright, all while trying to find a way back into Anne Hendrik’s good graces.
Not a bad start!
Alright, let’s get the cons out of the way first. Some of the dialogue takes a bit of getting used to, being Elizabethan and all that, and even then it’s not 100% consistent. Plot wise I found it fairly interesting but not enough that I was finding it hard to put the book down at the end of my lunch hour. For one thing the Edmund Hoode subplot felt a bit pointless as it didn’t really go anywhere (flashbacks to reading Frankenstein – page after page of agonising about stuff building to a fairly anti-climactic climax). At best it seemed like comic relief and a pretty slow-burn comic relief at that, and the book would not have suffered from its absence. Now it could be that this had some greater meaning to those who know the character from other books so I’ll give benefit of the doubt there but as someone who just picked up this one book – as people often do – it seemed needless.
The same justification might be made for another of my gripes with this, i.e. that the backstory of Nick and Anne is never really explained. Our hero’s actions are almost completely dominated by his feelings for her and she is constantly in his thoughts, but he’s always vague about what actually happened to bring them together and then drive them apart. Series or not, that really could have been explained better, given how much Nick is obsessed with the woman.
On the plus side, the plot was pretty good and had some nice twists to it, but the main thing I liked about this book was the view it gave of 16th century theatre. Marston goes into lots of detail without it seeming like a lecture (a classic trait of one of my favourite authors – Bernard Cornwell). He tells us all about the physical productions such as most plays being performed in tavern yards rather than purpose-built theatres, as well as how things like props and effects were done. Even more than this, the book is very informative on the risqué political and religious satire that writers included in their text. We all know about this sort of thing appearing in Shakespeare (who the writer wisely resists from mentioning!) but I really liked seeing how other playwrights did such things.
In all I have to say this wasn’t a gripping page-turner for me but it did make an interesting lunchtime read and appealed to me as a lover of Shakespeare. Marston transports the reader into a very believable 16th century London and that was enough to keep me going through it. As I say, plot-wise it wasn’t bad by any means but nor was it something that had me wondering about the story on the drive home. I would probably speak more highly of some of the characters but, as part of a series, I didn’t really get to know them that well, and they didn’t seem to change much from start to finish. I’d say if you’re into Shakespeare, give this book a look and you’ll be interested. To sum up – I’m not rushing out to buy the series any time soon but I’m certainly glad to have read this one.