The third Hippocrates Yeoman historical mystery.
Publication year: 2015
Yeoman has written this series with an eye for giving advice to other writers or aspiring writers on how to craft a novel. The book (at least the Kindle version) has footnotes that tells how and why a particular literary device was used. Of course, the book can be read full well without reading the footnotes.
Hippocrates Yeoman lives in Elizabethian England, London in 1599 to be exact. He’s an apothecary, a coroner, and a “cunning man”, a detective. However, none of his work pays well and his apothecary shop hasn’t got many customers. So, when Fulke, a magistrate and Hippo’s friend, offers him five shillings to solve a mystery, he accepts. But the mystery turns out to be even stranger than either man believed at first glance.
Early in the morning Fulke arrives breathless at Hippo’s door and takes him to a murder scene. Or a supposed murder scene. A room has been found, full of blood and with a severed finger, but no body and no footsteps in the blood to indicate that the body has been removed. Also, the door was locked from the inside. The supposed victim is playwright Michael Drayton.
While the duo is investigating the room, a half-mad writer called Tom Nash slips in and soon pamphlets are all over London screaming “Ghastly Slaugher At Old Fish Street”. Nash is a disgraced playwright himself and it’s clear to Hippo that he wrote the pamphlet. However, Hippo is puzzled about the speed it has come out, especially since it contains a detailed woodcut of the murder scene.
The next day, a man is attacked at Hippo’s doorstep and Hippo helps him. The mystery man turns out to be Robert Cotton, a wealthy eccentric man who is worried about playwrights being murdered. He offers Hippo quite a large sum to find out who is behind it.
Hippo has barely time to start his investigation when he’s summoned to another blood filled room with no body. The victim is again a playwright.
At the same time, Hippo has to deal with his two servants, Luce and Piers. Their marriage seems to be crumbling which affects Hippo, too. Also, a young woman who appears insane talks to Hippo, quite cryptically.
This was mostly a highly enjoyable read, full of twists and eccentric characters. As far as I can tell, Yeoman used historical buildings and people, and was able to really create the atmosphere of historical London. We get to see both the high society of the City, briefly, and the low taverns and brothels.
The pace is very good; sometimes very quick and other time slower. For me at least, the mystery remained so until the end. There were clues along the way and more clever reader would have no doubt figured out what was going on. Even though this was the third book in a series, it’s easy to read as a stand-alone.
The book is written in the first person and past tense but a couple of flashbacks are in present tense, to separate them from the rest of the story.
I enjoyed most of the characters. Unfortunately I didn’t like the mad woman who was a significant character. Also, I’m self-employed and if I did as little actual work as Hippo, I’d have been bankrupt long ago. 🙂 I think that Hippo treated his customers a bit too cavalierly but he had another income source from his farm. Yet, money is really tight to him.
Yeoman also gives us his answer to the question who Shakespeare really was.