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George Garrett: Entered from the Sun

I have always been fascinated by the life of Christopher Marlowe. Was he a spy? Was he a counterfeiter? Did he write Shakespeare’s plays? How and, more importantly why, did he really die? Was his death faked? There is one other novel on this site, featuring Marlowe and Wikipedia has others, though, incredibly, not this one. There are also many non-fiction accounts, ranging from the historical biography to the wild conspiracy theories. I can recommend Charles Nicholl’s The Reckoning.

Garrett’s approach in this book is to have two separate investigators investigate Marlowe’s four years after his death. Was it self-defence as Ingram Frizer, Marlowe’s killer claimed, or were Frizer and his companions paid to assassinate Marlowe and, if so, why and by whom, as has been claimed by many, including Anthony Burgess? The two men – who are unaware of the other’s activities – are not historical. The first is Hunnyman, a former player, a spy and a man of many disguises, earning his living playing dice at the beginning of the novel. The second is Captain Barfoot (pronounced barefoot), a solder, a spy, a Catholic and in all probability, a dangerous man. We start with Hunnyman who is seized in the streets in of London by two men and taken to a man who seems to know far too much about Hunnyman (and his various aliases) and his past than he should, including his relationship with the Widow Alysoun. Before we learn of why the man has had Hunnyman brought to him, we first meet Captain Barfoot, who also has an unsavoury past (and present), including pending litigation against him. Both are hired to find out how Marlowe died, Hunnyman by the man who had him seized and Barfoot by a man who approaches him in a tavern, also knowing about him.

While there is certainly some investigation, what makes this novel, is what is going on with the other characters. Hunnyman and the Widow Alysoun have an interesting relationship, with Alysoun, owner of a print shop, definitely the smarter of the two, but we also see many historical characters, such as Raleigh and even Shakespeare and, as in the other books in this trilogy, get a variegated portrait of Elizabethan England. The investigation, however, proceeds afoot. We learn that Walter Raleigh is sponsoring Barfoot and that he, Raleigh, suspects that Thomas Walsingham, patron of Marlowe and nephew of Queen Elizabeth’s late spymaster, Francis Walsingham, is sponsoring Hunnyman, not least to see if he is suspected in the death of Marlowe. The ending, both on the personal and historical level, is, of course, not quite what we suspected but Garrett has now finished his Elizabethan trilogy and a first-class trilogy it is.

Publishing history

First published 1990 by Doubleday