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Book Author: Phillip DePoy

A PRISONER IN MALTA by Phillip DePoy: Book Review

Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, Cambridge student, poet, and expert with sword and knife, is plucked from his college by Rodrigo Lopez, royal physician to Queen Elizabeth, for a dangerous assignment.  The year is 1583, and nineteen-year-old Christopher has no idea what he’s getting into.  But, according to Dr. Lopez, he has no choice in the matter.

The queen, daughter of Henry VIII, has been on the throne for twenty-five years, and since the beginning of her reign there have been plots against her.  Lately they have intensified in nature, leading to Elizabeth’s belief that her half-sister Mary, Queen of Scots, and the pope are in league to remove her and either imprison her in the Tower of London or behead her.  Then Mary, a devout Catholic, would become ruler and reinstate the Catholic Church as the state religion of the country.

Two members of Elizabeth’s council–Dr. Lopez, a Portuguese Jew who has converted to Protestantism in order to become the monarch’s doctor, and Sir Francis Walsingham, for whom the term spymaster was invented–are trying to thwart this plan.  They tell Christopher part, but not all, of the scheme to unseat Elizabeth and that vital information to defeat the traitors is known only to a prisoner being held in Malta, a Catholic stronghold in the central Mediterranean.

Walsingham tells Marlowe that the island “is ruled by the Knights of Malta, ruthless, devious, brilliant men…(They) have built the most secure prison in the world.  Our man is in the bottom of that prison.”  Being young, flattered, and above all seeking excitement, Marlowe replies “I like a challenge,” and he sets off immediately to rescue the man.

Of course, there are plots within plots in sixteenth-century England, and there are many twists and turns in the story.  Like Marlowe, the reader doesn’t know whom to trust.  One’s friend today may be one’s enemy tomorrow, or even later the same day.  But Kit is, in his own way, the match for the Knights of Malta and whomever is behind the plot to gain the throne for Mary.  Rescuing the prisoner is only the first step in making the monarchy secure for Elizabeth.

My knowledge of Christopher Marlowe was nearly non-existant before reading A Prisoner in Malta.  I knew him only as a contemporary of Shakespeare; indeed, there is a small number of scholars who believe in the Marlovian conspiracy theory that Marlowe actually wrote many of the plays and poems for which Shakespeare is credited.  But Marlowe achieved so much on his own that there is no need to believe in that theory.  Being a poet, playwright, translator, and “spy” should be enough of a legacy for any man, especially for one who lived only twenty-nine years.

This is a terrific novel.  The author has brought every character to life, and, unfortunately, the intrigues and petty jealousies that he describes among those in power appear as common now as they were in Marlowe’s time.

Phillip DePoy has a brief summary at the end of the book that gives biographical details of the main characters of the book.  Please don’t read the summary before reading A Prisoner in Malta:  it will spoil the novel.

You can read more about Phillip DePoy at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.