Edward Marston is the author of over sixty historical mysteries – The Nine Giants is the fourth of sixteen in the Elizabethan theatre series, featuring stage manager Nicholas Bracewell as the sleuth. This is, I think, the first book by Marston that I’ve read, but after getting a bit of a taste for the historical mystery last week with Death in the Setting Sun, I thought I’d see what my local library had in the way of the genre that could count for M in the Alphabet of Crime Fiction.
Nicholas Bracewell gets involved in a plot involving a corpse floating in the Thames, the murder of a young apprentice and an actor hanging from a tree. This is set alongside the shenanigans of the lead actor’s attempts to woo a married woman, the possible loss of their theatre and the competition to be the next mayor of London.
Writers seem to have a difficulty with marrying a solid mystery plot with the historical setting. The best example I can think of it The Witch of the Low Tide by John Dickson Carr, but that was only set in 1910, so it’s arguably not very historical. More often than not, you are being painted a wonderful picture of life in the n-th century which can get in the way of the plot.
As a historical drama-comedy, this book toddles along nicely. The main characters are well-drawn, and the non-mystery plots are fine, although there are one or two somewhat clunky attempts to shoehorn in some menace by creating a rivalry between two members of the troupe for the hand of the married woman, including a death threat which feels out of place, as if it is only there to try and suggest a link to the main plot.
It is the main plot that is my problem with the book – the mystery element is just another subplot and takes an age to get going. Despite being mentioned in the blurb, the second killing takes place on page 197 out of 236 and the hanging even later. It’s more of a thriller than a mystery, employing Jeffrey Deaver’s favourite plot twist, but to be honest, it’s not that thrilling.
This book really wasn’t for me. I can see its charm, but as the title of the blog states, I’m looking for a decent mystery – this was more of a soap opera with some mild intrigue.
So, time to give the historicals a rest for now. Now all I have to choose which John Dickson Carr I pick for the letter N. Hint – they both start with the same word…