First Sentence: Christopher Marlow started at the newly mown lawn, and the tower of St. Benet’s Church reaching sweetly toward God in morning’s light.
Young Oxford student Christopher Marlow is recruited by representatives of Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth. There is a plot brewing against the Queen. The person with its details is being held in seclusion within a heavily guarded dungeon in Malta. Against foreign governments, including representatives of the Pope, Marlow must rescue the prisoner, and help to save the Queen from assignation and England from invasion.
Talk about intriguing subterfuge from the very first page! There is no gentle entry into this story. No, the excitement begins on the very first page.
DePoy’s dialogue has just the right hint of the period to it, and is always a pleasure to read. His humor and insightfulness is evident—“How long will this trip take?” “Another two hours, possibly three.” ”How long if we ask the driver to speed the horses?” “Five hours.” “How is it longer,…if we go faster?” “If your eye is fixed on a destination in the distance,…it’s impossible to watch the road in front of you.” There is nothing like a bit of cat-and-mouse on the high seas when combined with delightful repartee—“Take the longboat by ourselves, set the sail and manage.” “Can you sail a boat like that?” “NO…You’re the one from the proud race of circum-navigating sea folk!” “I’m a doctor!” “I’m a student!” While the dialogue for Marlow is quick and clever, he soon shows himself as someone not to be underestimated.
One will be amused by the references to Shakespeare’s/Marlow’s plays—“What surprised him was how comforting he found the prospect of death. Dying was only a chance to sleep…” The way in which Marlow views a situation or location as a scene in a play to gain a clear perspective is very clever.
The history surrounding the plot is critical to the story, and it is included in a way that not only educates us, but intrigues us. This was a time of tremendous plotting and upheaval, and where women could be as, and occasionally more, capable and powerful than were men. We are also made aware of how strict and precise the laws of the period could be—“No longer dressed in her gray man’s costume, she wore a plain green linen dress. …the Queen’s Sumptuary Laws allow both lower and upper classes of women to wear that particularly color.”
“A Prisoner in Malta” is filled with high action, plot twists, and double-crosses on double crosses. The history and characters are wonderful and, has one of the best conclusions one can remember reading.
A PRISONER IN MALTA (Hist Mys-Kit Marlow-England/Malta-1583) – VG+
DePoy, Phillip – Standalone
Minotaur, January 2016