Reviews: Murder by Misrule

Murder by Misrule by Anna Castle“Lawyer, scientist and original Renaissance man Francis Bacon enlists four high-spirited law students to help solve a murder and secure his return to Queen Elizabeth’s favor.

“In this debut historical mystery set in 1586, a 25-year-old Bacon is horrified when he stumbles over the body of his former law tutor in a Westminster alleyway. But when his uncle, the powerful courtier Lord Burghley, asks him to investigate the murder, he sees an opportunity to regain the queen’s favor, lost after he dared to suggest the English legal code needed an overhaul. Hoping to restart his stalled career, the ambitious Bacon takes the assignment, but owing to delicate digestion and social awkwardness, he delegates much of the actual investigating to his four pupils: Tom Clarady, a good-hearted mischief-maker whose privateer father is determined to make him a gentleman; the miniature Allen Trumpington, owner of “a tragic wisp of a moustache of which he was perversely proud”; highborn, pompous Stephen Delabere; and the studious, intelligent Benjamin Whitt. At the murder scene, Clarady spies a golden-haired beauty gazing down from a window and falls immediately in love. The possibility that she might have witnessed the murder provides him an excuse to hunt for her, though identifying her does prompt certain concerns: “Had he fallen in love with a strumpet? Again?” Fortunately for Clarady, Clara Goossens only charges for the portraits she paints of noblewomen. Bacon suspects the enemy is close at hand: namely, another lawyer at Gray’s Inn allied with Catholic factions and intent on fomenting political unrest to unseat the queen. Castle’s characters brim with zest and real feeling, whether it’s Bacon dithering on a doorstep and wondering whether anyone has seen him do it or the prickly dynamic between Tom and Stephen, longtime pals from different social classes whose established symbiosis—“sharing Tom’s father’s money and Stephen’s father’s influence”—is starting to fray. Though the plot keeps the pages turning, the characters, major and minor, and the well-wrought historical details will make readers want to linger in the 16th century.

“A laugh-out-loud mystery that will delight fans of the genre.”

– Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014


“Murder by Misrule is a delightful debut with  characters that leap off the page, especially the brilliant if unwilling detective Francis Bacon and his street smart man Tom Clarady.  Elizabeth  Tudor rules, but Anna Castle triumphs.

– Karen Harper, NY Times best-selling author of The Queen’s Governess.


“Murder By Misrule, the delightful debut historical mystery by Anna Castle, transported me to the Court of Queen Elizabeth I, where I learned that the young gentlemen studying law at the prestigious Gray’s Inn spent as much time on fashion and frolic as they did studying. This is the first in a series featuring the philosopher Francis Bacon, who uses his powers of deductive reasoning and the help of a group of young law students he is tutoring to solve crimes. Well-researched (with the sights and sounds and smells of late 16th century London beautifully recreated), Murder by Misrule is also enormously entertaining; a mystery shot through with a series of misadventures, misunderstandings, and mendacity worthy of a Shakespearian comedy. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series to find out what Francis Bacon, Stephen Delabere (the haughty son of an Earl), Tom Clarady (the dashing son of a privateer), Ben Whitt (Bacon’s devoted acolyte), and the diminutive Allen Trumpington (whose small size holds big surprises) will be up to next.”

– M. Louisa Locke, author of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series


“Historical mystery readers (especially those fond of English settings) take note: Murder by Misrule is a wonderful example of Elizabethan times brought to life with a mystery fueling the setting, and tells of barrister Francis Bacon, who must ferret out clues to a fellow barrister’s murder at an inn. There’s only a few problems with his method: too many suspects, too many concerns about appearance and social ladders, and too many powerful people in high places are becoming connected to the crime. But, back up a step.

“Fans of Sherlock Holmes will find a similar atmosphere in this story which features Bacon and his sidekick Thomas Clarady who, unlike Watson, is actually an unwanted assistant who cares more about social connections than crime-solving. This adds an exquisite taste of complexity to what first appears a typical crime saga, reflecting on not just a murder’s possibilities but the underlying motivations and concerns of Elizabethan times. And those who often associate British atmospheres with ‘stodgy’ action need look no further than the first sentence to realize that Anna Castle’s use of description is far from predictable:

“A sudden roar startled Francis Bacon out of his thoughts, making him jump, his shoes actually leaving the ground. He glanced to either side, hoping no one had seen him.”

Plus, Bacon is no respected barrister but has actually been banished from court for improper ideas:

“All he’d done was have an idea – a perfectly reasonable idea for reforming the English common law – and mention it here and there. He was born to have ideas, he’d been told as much from infancy. But his proposal had created a bit of a stir. The queen didn’t like controversy among her courtiers, so she’d banished him until further notice. The punishment far exceeded the crime, but to whom might one complain?”

“And so Bacon and his unwelcome assistant actually aren’t respected bastions of society nor even welcomed for their investigative skills, but are legal rejects: and Bacon’s stumbling upon his old tutor’s murder isn’t about to help his position in society either. Yes, it isn’t Bacon’s job to solve mysteries. But in the course of facing a hindered career and political barriers he becomes an investigator – and what he uncovers makes his prior indiscretions seem like child’s play.

“In addition to a focus on historical accuracy and atmosphere, Murder by Misrule offers its information in digestible chapters perfect for pick-up-and-put-down browsing. Fueled by strong protagonists whose varying viewpoints of society and events are backed by the author’s attention to historical accuracy, the mystery that lies at the center of Murder by Misrule is actually powered by realistic, involving protagonists with different perspectives and motivations for their involvements and actions. All this leads to a story that holds many facets other murder mysteries don’t have: protagonists who display more concerns than the murder at hand, who interact with their societies and settings in specific ways, and who excel in lively interactions based on deduction and personal motivation:

“Francis blinked at him then remembered that the boy had not attended university. ‘Occam’s Razor, also known as the lex parsimoniae, states that entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity. That is to say, we ought to choose the simplest solution, the one requiring the fewest additional causes or stipulations. In the present matter, it is simpler to assume that one murderer is responsible for all three of the deaths related to Gray’s than it is to propose a separate killer for each victim, thereby multiplying the causes or motives.’”

“The result is a blend of Sherlock Holmes and history, and is especially recommended for busy mystery enthusiasts who appreciate both approaches.”

– D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

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