Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Review of A Murder by Any Name by Suzanne M. Wolfe, first in an Elizabethan spy mystery series

London is drenched with atmosphere and deadly intrigue in this debut entry in a new Elizabethan mystery series.

The time is the 1570s. The body of Lady Cecily Carew, an innocent young lady-in-waiting to the queen, is found spread across the high altar of Whitehall’s Chapel Royal, her limbs arranged as if in effigy. The Honorable Nicholas (Nick) Holt, brother to the Earl of Blackwell and clandestine agent for spymaster Robert Cecil, sees political motivation in the terrible crime, since sweet, trusting Cecily would have had no enemies.

Both he and Queen Elizabeth realize that either the Catholics or the Puritans could try to use the sacrilegious nature of the murder to discredit her and throw her reign into chaos. With the assistance of two friends, a Jewish brother and sister who saved his life in Spain, and the protection of his shaggy companion, an Irish wolfhound named Hector, Nick must sort out truth from lies to root out a killer. One immediate clue is an unusual love note found clutched in Cecily’s hand; its tone is more clinical than affectionate.

Nick is a genial, compassionate sort with the capability to move among different strata in society, from the royal court with its oily toadies to the squalid lanes of Bankside, which gives him an advantage. In addition to his noble birth, he’s the proprietor of a tavern, the Black Sheep, which serves to hide his role as undercover spy. The way he goes about his investigation is typical for a mystery of this sort – interviewing different parties as new clues are unveiled – but Wolfe does a good job keeping the culprit (or culprits) concealed until the end. This is the type of historical mystery that lets you sink into the historical setting, though anyone ambling down the street should be attuned to possible surprises from above (gardez loo!).

The stakes are high, not only for Nick, a former Catholic, but also for his physician friends Eli and Rivkah, since anti-Jewish paranoia is rampant. (On that note, anyone knowing their names would be aware of their religion; they can't exactly blend in.) I’m guessing romantic intrigue will play a bigger role in future books. While Nick has a regular bedmate in brothel owner Kat, Rivkah’s beauty and kindness attract him.

Wolfe lightens the mood periodically through gleeful evocation of the era’s repellent odors and colorful curses, of which Elizabeth herself is a master (she “swore like a dosshouse toper” – terms worth the time to look up and note for future use). The author admits that her depiction of the Virgin Queen’s disdain for bathing is exaggerated for comedic effect, but hers isn’t an unflattering portrait overall. Elizabeth is craftily intelligent, and Nick knows never to underestimate her.

In all, it’s well-wrought Tudor entertainment; I’ll be back for book two.

Suzanne M. Wolfe's A Murder by Any Name was published by Crooked Lane in October; thanks to the author for supplying a copy for the blog tour via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  See also my earlier review for the author's The Confessions of X, which was a fabulous read set in a completely different period (the 4th century).

During the tour, we will be giving away 3 hardcover copies of A Murder By Any Name! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on January 17th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

– Giveaway is open to US residents only.

– Only one entry per household.

– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.

– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

A Murder By Any Name


  1. That dosshouse toper is a cracker!

  2. I know - that was great. Never heard either word before!

  3. Thank you so much for hosting Suzanne's tour & for your lovely review! I loved this book and can't wait for the next one in the series.

    HF Virtual Book Tours

  4. Hi Amy, thanks for arranging the tour!

  5. Enter me for this please, it sounds lovely.

  6. Hi Jessica, good luck! If you're interested in entering the giveaway, please fill out the form above - it's being run through the Gleam system. Thanks!