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Martyr (John Shakespeare (Publication Order) #1)

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  2,107 Ratings  ·  211 Reviews

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Rory Clements's Revenger.

A young woman is found murdered, her body marked with profane symbols. Even more shocking, she’s one of Queen Elizabeth’s aristocratic cousins. Is there a connection between this tragedy and a plot to assassinate Sir Francis Drake—a plot that, if successful, could leave England defenseless in the face of

Kindle Edition, 402 pages
Published (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Margaret Houston
Jan 29, 2012 Margaret Houston rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A decently paced historical mystery, set during the crisis of 1587-1588. That's about all the praise I can give it. WHY do all the heroes of these sorts of novels ALWAYS have to fall into the mold of "the one person in a prejudiced society who has 21st-century notions of religious tolerance"? Couldn't we, just once, have a hero who actually BELONGS to his time, who, say, believes in Walsingham wholeheartedly and believes that Catholics are not just "following their conscience as best they know h ...more
I do like this era and the idea was good, I just don't think Clements managed to pull it off.

John Shakespeare is an investigator for Walsingham, charged with keeping Sir Francis Drake from being assassinated and rooting out any Catholic plots against the queen. Fellow investigator and rival Topcliffe always seems to be just ahead of Shakespeare in the investigation, using his brutal methods to get the answers he wants from the victims and perpetrators.

There were two things that jumped out at me
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Aug 27, 2013 Susanna - Censored by GoodReads rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Susanna - Censored by GoodReads by: Bettie☯
Good grasp on historical details. Hero has a touch of "the only modern man" syndrome, however.

For further review: .
Didn't quite end up how I expected. For half of the book I was thinking four stars. It had ambiance, colourful characters and I really felt the Tudor world. But the back half of the book was a little disjointed and mashed together. I am yet to find a Medieval mystery series that I enjoy as much as the C. J. Sansom series. I have tried a couple now, this one and the Colitto series that starts with Inquisition. I think i might just give up and stick with Sansom's series.
The queen's cousin is found murdered in an unlikely place and in a terrible way. Spymaster Walsingham calls on his lieutenant John Shakespeare to solve the mystery. Shakespeare follows clues and red herrings and uncovers conspiracy.

I was rather underwhelmed. It looked exciting, it's a time period I enjoy reading about and I like a good mystery. The historical aspect was very well done (hence the 3 stars instead of 2) and interesting, the mystery, not so much. There was just too much trying to be
Jun 29, 2009 C.W. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
MARTYR by Rory Clements, a novel set in the later years of Elizabeth I's reign, introduces us to the intelligencer John Shakespeare, older brother of the playwright. While investigating the brutal murder of a noblewoman, Shakespeare finds himself drawn into an assasination plot against Sir Francis Drake and the hunt for a deadly Jesuit; what he
discovers shakes his belief in himself and the world around him.

Mr Clements excels in his debut. While he can write spine-tingling action with flair, his
Jul 04, 2012 Bobby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a terrific ride. The time period was flawlessly described and the characters so very well established and constant. More later as the group finishes up but now maybe I can get some sleep!!
Jun 16, 2011 Wolf rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are some books that never quite escape the shadow of the books that inspired them. Here it is hard to escape the feeling that C.J. Sanson's Shardlake books were not just an important inspiration, their success was, for the publisher at least, the real reason behind this book. Even the one word title seems designed to evoke Sansom's oh-so successful formula. But Clements' novel is nothing like as well done.

Whilst not badly written, the characters are essentially flat and appear too obviousl
Susan in NC
As a fan of C.J. Sansom's outstanding Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries, I have to agree with the previous reviewer that John Shakespeare's debut outing doesn't quite measure up to that level.

However, Clements does a pretty good job keeping everything moving, until the last quarter of the book or so, which dragged for me. I kept feeling like we were heading for a big denouement, but it just slogged on (in the case of John's "frantic" chase to Plymouth, literally. . .) The requisite "windin
The general consensus amongst the other reviews I have seen is that "Martyr" bears many similarities to C. J. Sansom's Shardlake books, but just isn't as good. I would tend to agree, though I don't think Rory Clements need worry too much about that. Shardlake sets the Tudor murder mystery bar very high, if William Shakespeare's fictional brother is even half as successful as his Henrician equivalent then the author can at least look forward to healthy sales.

Yes, it is very brutal in places, but
Karen Brooks
Jan 13, 2015 Karen Brooks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fabulous, well-paced historical crime book set during the latter years of Elizabeth’s reign (it opens in 1587), a time when conspiracies abounded, suspicions towards Catholics and fears for Elizabeth’s life were rife in a country still trying to lay firm Protestant foundations. This was an era when paranoia was alive and well (and often with good reason) and Mister Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham and his spies or intelligencers played a significant role in shoring up the safety of the land a ...more
Jul 12, 2012 Marty rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like a good historical mystery. This book, while not one of my favorites, is a good read on the whole. John Shakespeare (he's the brother of the Bard) is employed as a chief investigator by Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster, Sir John Walsingham. It's a bad time to in England if you're not English and/or Church of England - Elizabeth is struggling over her decision to execute her cousin, the traitorous Mary, Queen of Scots, there's a rogue priest on the loose, and someone has murdered and ghoulishl ...more
Mar 20, 2012 Spuddie rated it liked it
Did you know that William Shakespeare, the infamous playwright, had an older brother called John who was an intelligencer for Secretary Walsingham? Neither did I. LOL John begins investigating the death of a woman, a noblewoman distantly related to Queen Elizabeth. Her body is found in a burned out house, carved with profane religious symbols--and she was with child, the fetus having been sliced from her body before the fire, which only partly consumed her body.

While he's investigating, he unco
May 06, 2016 Bandit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Trying a historical mystery again after Rebellion's Message. This one is set in the same time period, but Clements is much more impressive with his writing, plotting and evoking the sense of a bygone era. You may have heard of William Shakespeare, bard extraordinaire, who does make a brief appearance in this story. Well, Clements has invented him a sibling, John, on top of all of his real life brothers. John Shakespeare is a Queen's man working for Sir Francis Walsingham, who was the principle s ...more
Jul 28, 2016 Simon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-done historical mystery. There will be inevitable comparisons to the Shardlake Tudor mystery series, which I like --- but I think I am going to like this one as much, to judge by the debut volume. It is set in the month of Mary Queen of Scots execution (February, 1587), and the hero is John Shakespeare, you-know-who's older brother, who is an intelligence agent for Francis Walsingham. Clements vividly creates London at the autumn of Elizabeth's reign. The characters use a rich Tudor vocab ...more
Ant Harrison
Apr 18, 2012 Ant Harrison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
Really enjoyed Rory Clements’s Martyr; an exciting take on the current ‘investigator-goes-it-alone-in-Tudor England’ craze. The hero of this story is William Shakespear’s fictional brother (not too sure that this relationship was completely necessary, and it certainly wasn’t key to the plot, but perhaps the author’s going to make more of it in future novels), John, who as Walsingham’s top agent, is tasked with protecting a belligerent Sir Francis Drake from a ruthless Spanish assassin. The chara ...more
I did not finish this book. In fairness to the author, I don't necessarily think this was a bad book so much as I may have reached what I like to think of as "subject/era fatigue". I think I need to take a break from Queen Elizabeth and her battles over religion and the intrigues and treachery of her reign.

Of the 50 or so pages of the book I did finish, I will say the sense of place the author creates is well done. His descriptions were good at making me feel like I was there in the moment with
Curtis Poe
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
“Martyr” by Rory Clements had the ingredients to be a compelling read. It was set in Elizabeth 1’s reign, at a time of great unrest. The fateful decision concerning the future of Mary, Queen of Scots, was pending, the Spanish were preparing a great Armada of fighting ships and it was known that Jesuits were planning the assassination of Sir Francis Drake. John Shakespeare, the main character, was given the task of searching for, and apprehending, the would-be killers, while dealing with some par ...more
Jul 07, 2012 Tasha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll start off by admitting that I don't read many books set during this time period so I'm not sure if this affects my review of the book. It started off really well, grabbed my attention and kept me swept up for most of the story, until about just over the halfway point. I was impressed that it is a debut novel and I enjoyed the writing and the scene setting. Then it just started to peter out, the story just seemed to all of a sudden have too many facets, too many players, too many loose ends ...more
Mar 02, 2015 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A series of books following the fictional life of John Shakespeare, the Bards brother, who works for Walsingham and others solving mysteries in Elizabethan England. Good on period detail. A noblewoman is found murdered and fingers are pointed at the latest scapegoats, Jesuit Priests.Fr. Robert Southwell and others are on the suspect lists. There is a small cameo made by William. While John is out of town protecting Drake from an assassin, his house is entered by the "bad guy" Topcliffe and his m ...more
Ken Vaughan
Nov 16, 2009 Ken Vaughan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
A suspenseful, evocative Elizabethan mystery featuring John Shakespeare (brother of William, who makes a cameo appearance). The Spanish armada is poised to attack England, and Mary Stuart awaits execution. Tension between Catholics and Protestants runs high. A young noblewoman has been found brutally murdered in a burnt out house in London, and clues on and around the body point to conspiracies against the Queen. Francis Drake is adored as England’s greatest naval leader, but there are those acr ...more
This was a reasonable good book for a first book, but had little to keep me wanting to read it every day. The idea of mystery using Shakespeare's brother John as a protagonist was an interesting idea. He was asked to find out who murderd a relation of the queen, and while doing so comes across Jesuits hiding from her edict against Catholics, prostitutes who profit from a murder they did not commit, a cruel, evil man who uses his position to prosper, and a nice lady who interests John. I'm still ...more
Hannah Elizabeth
It had the potential to be a gripping thriller - that much is abundantly clear. However, there was too much going on all at once, with too little time dedicated to any of it. The plot was undercooked; I found myself forgetting half the characters before they were even ushered off the page, and it all seemed rather rushed. But the writing itself was faultless. It was just the plot and all its aimless meandering I found disappointing.
Sep 09, 2013 Alice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, set in Elizabethan London, was a great read. Centered around an Intelligencer named John Shakespeare, the plot weaves its way in and out of London's whore houses and prisons, as John races against the clock to discover an assassin, solve a mysterious murder and locate a notorious Catholic priest. All this while he battles his arch nemesis and falls head over heels with a papist!
Jun 19, 2012 Gary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

The period is interesting and the historicity is good but the characters are somewhat two dimensional and the plot is predictable. Damning words I know but strangely I still enjoyed the book and will read the next one I am sure. It's a light weight read and flips along with no great demand on me and sometimes that's all I want from a book. So, no great shakes but it'll do.
Irvin B Robinson
Feb 06, 2016 Irvin B Robinson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exciting read

Lots of blood and guts
Many of the same character s as in the Robert Carey books by Catherine Finney books. Not as romantic but very good nonetheless.
A very satisfying book that ties up the loose ends well in the end. Once again Topcliff grits away with crimes he commits.
I'm really enjoying this series, got a bit confused as I started with the last book in this series, but this one seemed to kind of follow on. Yeap thats where I got confused lol, I'm now off to start second in the series
May 31, 2009 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
not bad for a first book, looking forward to the next one in the series. Good historical detail, "Will" Shakespeare makes a cameo apperance late in the book at his brother's house.
Dec 10, 2015 Lobus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful tale of intrigue... I'm off to read the second in the series
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Rory Clements has had a long and successful newspaper career, including being features editor and associate editor of Today, editor of the Daily Mail's Good Health Pages, and editor of the health section at the Evening Standard. He now writes full-time in an idyllic corner of Norfolk, England.
More about Rory Clements...

Other Books in the Series

John Shakespeare (Publication Order) (7 books)
  • Revenger (John Shakespeare, #2)
  • Prince (John Shakespeare, #3)
  • Traitor (John Shakespeare, #4)
  • The Heretics (John Shakespeare, #5)
  • The Queen's Man (John Shakespeare, #6)
  • Holy Spy (John Shakespeare, #7)

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