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The Slaying of the Shrew    by Simon Hawke order for
Slaying of the Shrew
by Simon Hawke
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Slaying of the Shrew follows A Mystery of Errors in a new series combining sleuths and Shakespeare; in fact Will Shakespeare is one of the detectives. The titles are an amusing take-off on the bard's comedies, this one having fun with The Taming of the Shrew. The tale is told from the viewpoint of Tuck Smythe, during Shakespeare's early days in London. Tuck and Will are room-mates who met on the outskirts of the city and found jobs as ostlers with a company of players, the Queen's Men. Will has risen to rewrite plays for the company and to scribble his own works, while Tuck freezes every time he goes onstage, a great shame since his burning ambition is to be an actor.

There are many references to the first book and it's best to read them in order. Characters met there carry on to this story, in particular the gently born object of Tuck's infatuation, Elizabeth Darcie, and Sir William Worley, the right hand of Sir Francis Walsingham who runs the country's spy network. The company has been hired to put on a play for the wedding of the shrew of the story, strong-willed and opinionated Catherine Middleton, a friend of Elizabeth's. The celebration involves Catherine's elaborate entry by Egyptian barge, costumed as Cleopatra. Unfortunately, when this vessel lands the queen is found to have breathed her last and poison is quickly suspected. Will rushes to London to consult herbalist Granny Meg, while Tuck pursues his own investigation of suspects - the suitors of Catherine's vamp sister Blanche - in consultation with Sir William and Elizabeth. A formal hedged maze leads Tuck into danger, while its twists and turns mirror those of the plot, and the corpses (and villains) multiply.

The language is Shakespearian, resounding with Methinks and alarums. The atmosphere and descriptions of old London are well done, and there are numerous references to the bard's plays, as when the playwright imagines 'eyes of newts and wings of bats and pulverized horn of unicorn' in the apothecary shop. Later Tuck counsels his friend 'Each of us must suffer the slings and arrows of his own outrageous fortune' and when Will replies 'I wish I had said that', he's told in an in-joke for the reader 'I am sure you will.' Similarly 'all the world's a stage' and 'smile and smile and yet still be a villain' arouse Will's interest. If you love Shakespeare and enjoy a good puzzle, then you'll appreciate The Slaying of the Shrew. Indeed methinks 'twould be worth your while to try both bardish mysteries in this entertaining series.

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