There are many mystery novels I have read which feature a real historical person and gives them a fictional murder mystery series. You see it with the Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron (where Jane Austen solves murders) and The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert (starring Beatrix Potter, the author of Peter Rabbit and other children stories). And that is just a couple names. People have written mystery series around Mozart, Groucho Marx, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc. I love these types of books, which blend fiction and history. If you’re curious to learn of more series like this, I found this article which features more mystery series with real historical characters.
So when I came upon this book, which features Sir Francis Bacon (a 16th century philosopher I like immensely), I knew I had to read it. I probably should have gone into it with lower expectations, so I wouldn’t have been as disappointed as I was. Oops, my mistake.
Release: March, 2014
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) “Francis Bacon is charged with investigating the murder of a fellow barrister at Gray’s Inn. He recruits his unwanted protégé Thomas Clarady to do the tiresome legwork. The son of a privateer, Clarady will do anything to climb the Elizabethan social ladder. Bacon’s powerful uncle Lord Burghley suspects Catholic conspirators of the crime, but other motives quickly emerge. Rival barristers contend for the murdered man’s legal honors and wealthy clients. Highly-placed courtiers are implicated as the investigation reaches from Whitehall to the London streets. Bacon does the thinking; Clarady does the fencing. Everyone has something up his pinked and padded sleeve. Even the brilliant Francis Bacon is at a loss — and in danger — until he sees through the disguises of the season of Misrule.”
For reference, this will be a non-spoiler review, because I cannot justify spoiling a murder mystery. Any other genre I feel no remorse in spoiling, but the point of murder mysteries is to solve the crime along with the protagonist, so I won’t be talking about the details of the crime itself.
I am a massive fan of Sir Francis Bacon, having read many of his essays. So when I spotted this book, combining Francis Bacon with a murder mystery, I immedietely knew I had to read it. Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed. There are far too many characters to keep track of. Bacon himself is often in the background of the investigation, leaving the footwork to his assistant Tom and several of Tom’s friends (Ben, Stephen, Trumpet…there may be more, but I don’t remember, because heaven knows they blend together completely). These university boys bumble through the entire story, not really solving the crime and usually stumbling over useful information at random. The murder itself was interesting (the murder of a lawyer being stabbed ferociously in the streets of London), but as the story progressed I felt as if the mystery divulged into a bland adventure story with little rising action. There was some interesting historical details in the book, which was the only part I actually enjoyed, but the story and characters itself were entirely uninteresting to me.
Having read Bacon’s writing in the past, I’ve gotten to understand what kind of man he was. He was highly religious, with a strong moral compass and an understanding of the world around him that few had. Such a character, in my opinion, makes for a great detective, because he sees the nuances within the world and the human heart that the average person may miss (similar to Sherlock Holmes). But this Bacon contained within the pages of this book felt dull and unintelligent compared to his real-life counterpart. Saying that, Bacon was still my favorite character in the story, but he was nothing like Francis Bacon in reality. Not once is the character of Bacon shown to be religious, and yet he was in life. Not once do we see the fictional Bacon analyzing the world in the detail that real Bacon did.
And, like I said, Bacon himself was the only character I rather liked. The boys who are bumbling around solving the crime are entirely interchangeable. I kept mixing up who was who. When Tom started liking Clara (I’m pretty sure it was Tom…you see my problem), I kept forgetting it was he who liked her and not one of the other main boys. While the boys and Bacon are the main characters, there is a massive cast of other characters, most of which I met and promptly forgot. You have Clara, several victims I couldn’t keep track of besides the first, Humphries, Mrs. Sprye…I’m not even going to try to remember all of them. Way too many characters to remember!
The romance between Tom and Clara was uninteresting to me, and I felt like it detracted from the already slow plot.
Saying that, there were a few great scenes when they found out something about the murders, which I loved. But they were few and far between. There were also some great lines in the book which gave context to all the drama going on in Elizabethan England at the time, like the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, or the conflict between Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth. But again, just because a book has a few details that are good, does not mean it can be saved.
This is such a pity, because I feel like the story could have been really good. For example, if the author had focused more on Bacon and less on his assistants. In the Sherlock Holmes stories, he often sends the Baker Street Irregulars to find out things for him, and yet he is still the focus of the mysteries. Similarly, if this book had made Tom and his friends less of main characters and more of Bacon’s footboys, the book would have been better. If the author had taken the time to understand Bacon, instead of merely learn the facts of his life, he would have been a much more compelling protagonist.
It is strange that every month this year I’m trying to read one Indie book, and so far I’ve only liked about one out of the three I’ve read (I guess one-third isn’t horrible). Maybe I’m just unlucky or way too critical.
Either way, have you read any fictional books which feature real life people? What’s your favorite? Does this book sound interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventures,