This collection of thirteen stories is a must-read for fans of the Francis Bacon mysteries. Some of the short works are mysteries featuring Bacon. Others star major characters from the series, and one features the woman who does his laundry. My favorite series-linked short is All Englishmen Look Alike, not only for the colorful adventure, but for what it reveals that the main characters in the books don’t know. Yet.
The short works not related to the Bacon series are also historical with one exception. They range from the tale of a Mayan beekeeper coping with the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico to a Western caper set in northern New Mexico on Jicarilla Apache land. There’s also a sample Moriarty mystery, a chance to discover Castle’s other historical series. The non-historical exception is Extinction, a mystery with a subtle paranormal touch set in modern Austin TX. The Sneeze is a hybrid of modern Texas and Elizabethan England. If you’ve ever experienced the pollen of the Southwest in early spring, you’ll appreciate this one. Or if you’ve ever gotten lost in your research.
I strongly recommend this collection for an intelligent, original escape from 2020.
History, Mystery, and Mastery of Both
Elizabethan England comes to life in this colorful, tightly plotted murder mystery. It follows the classic conventions of the genre creatively. When the plot takes a surprise turn—it’s a big surprise. The characters are three-dimensional and original. The middle-class working women give depth to what could have been told as a man’s story and still worked well enough. The young lawyers-in-training are complex, lively characters, and their tutor Francis Bacon is the perfect historical personage to cast as a detective, with his knowledge of law, his scientific thinking, and his strong, somewhat quirky personality. It was fascinating to meet the great thinker at twenty-five years of age, early in his career.
Anna Castle did her research. Her dialog feels true to the times without being stilted or archaic. She portrays the clothing, the social customs, the law, law school and the manners of the queen’s court, as well as the details of life for the working people, without being pedantic, integrating the details into active, suspenseful scenes. I double-checked the one thing I thought might be an anachronism—a song—and found that it actually is that old. I should have trusted her. An author this good wouldn’t mess up a little thing like that. From the brightest and wittiest scenes to the darkest, every page rings true. The dances and the masque and the scenery were wonderful. The scenes in Newgate prison were grimly accurate. If you’ve ever doubted that an indie book could be as polished as a traditionally published work, give Murder by Misrule a try. I think it could change your mind.