A Dead man in Deptford is one hell of a book. Imagining the fascinating life and early death of Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe – Elizabethan playwright, poet and alleged spy – on opening I was a little worried that the language might be too dense (’tis written in the parlance of the time) but before long I was putting off sleep to read more while gleefully noting all of my new favourite olde words and pretty much wanting to roll around in the wonderful writing.
While studying at Cambridge, although much distracted by writing plays, having lots of sex and questioning the nature of God and faith, Kit is tapped to undertake some work for Sir Francis Walsingham in rooting out the Catholic conspiracy against England and Queen Elizabeth (and if the conspiracies don’t have real teeth, they can always be fabricated). Kit’s bold views on religion (that are of an atheist bent) make him a plausible convert to the Catholic cause, making him a useful spy, but they’re also incredibly dangerous views to be broadcasting in a society intolerant of religious difference and keen on executing those who don’t conform. And if those in power can’t afford a public trial for fear of what may be exposed, ‘drunken brawls’ can always turn deadly.
Books like this are the reason I love historical fiction so much, bringing to pungent life the people and times that my school’s history classes couldn’t get to stick and making them hard to forget. Prior to reading this, my knowledge of Marlowe amounted to a vague idea of him knocking about with Shakespeare, but now I feel as though I know him intimately (very intimately – his sexuality was another point of controversy in his life and is vividly depicted within). Burgess has had him make such an impression on me, in fact, that I’ve not even been able to pick up a new book after finishing a few days ago, preferring instead to let my mind wander back to Marlowe and re-reading my favourite passages. And I’ll definitely be trying to slip a few torcheculs into my conversations from here on out.