Friday, January 30, 2015

The Play's the Thing

Mysteries are a brew I rarely imbibe; from small beer to Stout, they just do not often suit my taste. Perhaps I am too fond of stronger tipple: science fiction, history, philosophy.

But once in a while, I find a soft ale with an intriguing flavor. One sip makes me want another. Soon I have finished the glass, and signaled the barkeep for more. Having enjoyed The Cunning Man by John Yeoman, I was eager to have another serving of this frothy goodness. I wasn't disappointed: Dream of Darkness is every bit as tasty as the previous pint.

With the new novel, as I had with The Cunning Man, I mostly ignored the in-linked footnotes that supply the "fictorial" quality of the novel. I actually stopped seeing them after a while. The story was that engrossing. Once again, Hippo Yeoman, the apothecary/coroner and cunning man of previous books, is trying to solve a mystery in medieval London. Someone is killing playwrights; a series of locked-door murders with much blood (but little in the way of corpses) has baffled the magistrates.

As our cunning Yeoman tries to solve that mystery, he is commissioned to resolve another. A half-mad beauty dances in and out of reach, while a forerunner of yellow journalism manages to publicize the details of each murder within hours of their occurrence, complete with woodcut illustrations that must have been prepared before the murder was committed. We also get some glimpses of Hippo Yeoman's past life that tie into the tangled web he is trying to unravel.

The London Yeoman inhabits has still a functional wharf at Queenshythe, and the Globe Theatre has just opened, even while construction is still underway. A new play by William Shakespeare is in rehearsal there (Whatever You Like); and forms part of the mystery which draws Yeoman into the seamy south-bank underworld. The brothels and "low inns" of Southwark (and his supposed familiarity with them) are part of why the fictional Yeoman has been given the commission he pursues. 

John Yeoman has once again given the novel a strong flavor of London of the period, with courtly and religious intrigue, a sense of the common life of urban professionals, craftsmen, and artists (and thieves), and a thrilling conclusion to the multiple mysteries his cunning protagonist must solve.

A most uncommon brew, this. Very enjoyable!