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Tamburlaine Must Die Hardcover – January 6, 2005

2.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Christopher Marlowe, "playwright, scenester, and celebrated wit," was a superstar in Elizabethan London. Unfortunately for him, Elizabethan London was a risky place to attract notice. In Welsh's slim, taut follow-up to her 2003 debut, The Cutting Room, she reimagines the bitter end of the great dramatist's life, retold in his own words on the eve of his still-unsolved murder. The beginning of the end comes in the form of a messenger from the queen's Privy Council, summoning him back to the city from a comfortable ensconcement at his patron's country house. Turns out that heretical verses signed by Tamburlaine, his most famous (and famously ruthless) creation, have been turning up all over plague-decimated London in his absence. Faced with charges of heresy and blasphemy, Marlowe has an unspecified, "but clearly short," window of opportunity to offer up a more appealing scapegoat in his place. Welsh doesn't waste a word on any of the florid romanticizing so common in historical fiction: no heaving, corseted breasts or speeding steeds here. Just a hard, sharp little rapier of a thriller/mystery that packs a punishing schedule of sex, violence, wheeling and double-dealing into its brief length. The tension is unabated throughout this frantic, 72-hour dash among backstabbers, spies, murderers and prostitutes—even as Marlowe realizes that not even he will be able to talk his way out of this one. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"As quick and dark as a child’s nightmare. . . . Fictionalizes Marlowe’s last days with novelistic wit and interpretive imagination." -- Daniel Swift, The Nation

"If Raymond Chandler had written an Elizabethan thriller, it might have looked like this." -- Richard Ring, Providence Journal

"The Bard would have loved this period romp." -- Martin Zimmerman, San Diego Union-Tribune

"Welsh is back with a svelte . . . novel. . . . It’s tightly written, well plotted and, best of all, fun." -- Ron Bernas, Detroit Free Press

"Welsh’s vivid portrait of the beautiful, passionate, ever-witty Marlowe is the centerpiece. . . . A phantasmagoric Elizabethan thriller." -- Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate U.S.; 1st US Edition edition (January 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841956252
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841956251
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,209,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"The dead are equal." "The dead are dead."

Louise Welsh knows how to distill a potion of historical mystery into a novella of such power that it compels the reader to read this treat in one sitting. Unlike many authors who fictionalize history as the basis for novels, Welsh merely takes an isolated idea and expands on it like a theme and variations, all the while creating an atmosphere so vivid that he reader is utterly transported to the time, the place, and the consequences of her story.

Based on the fact that the death of playwright Christopher Marlowe has never been explained, Welsh focuses on a theory based on a character created by Marlowe - one Tamburlaine, a man of scandal and impetuous actions who was Marlowe's most evil concoction - explains the bizarre facts behind the mystery.

Set in 1593 when the Plague was eating London alive, Christopher Marlowe is summoned form the bed of his wealthy patron Thomas Walsingham to the Privy Council of the Queen where he is questioned about acts of heresy (in actuality a witch hunt to explain the dire etiology of the Plague!). Notes have been left throughout the city of London in the name of Tamburlaine and Marlowe has 72 hours to discover the plot behind the lies that implicate him as a traitor against the kingdom.

Populated with fellow actors (especially Blaize, a former lover and popular actor on the stages of London), writers, booksellers, and even figures such as Sir Walter Raleigh, this romp through the filth and pestilence that Welsh so well paints as London is as tense as any thriller, as illuminating as any psychological study, and as entertaining as history can be in the hands of a great novelist. She is an accomplished wordsmith and as creative a writer as any writing today. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, February 2005
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Format: Hardcover
I read Welsh's first release, 'The Cutting Room', when the paperback was released and I read it during a day off work. Looking back, I wish I'd went to work but my memories of the book were that it was dull. The only interesting part, for me, was Glasgow and being able to comment on places I knew. I don't even remember the ending or how it came about; it just happened and thought along the lines of "Whatever, almost done now!"

So, given that it was a first work, I decided to try her second, the historical novella called 'Tamburlaine Must Die'. Here's the blurb from the inside cover:

"1593 and London is a city on edge. Under threat from plague and war, it's a desperate place where strangers are unwelcome and severed heads grin from spikes on Tower Bridge.

Playwright, poet and spy, Christopher Marlowe has three days to live. Three days in which he confronts dangerous government factions, double agents, necromancy, betrayal and revenge in his search for the murderous Tamburlaine, a killer who has escaped from between the pages of his most violent play...

'Tamburlaine Must Die' is the swashbuckling adventure story of a man who dares to defy both God and State - and discovers that there are worse fates than damnation."

From that you would think it was a fun bit of historical fiction rife with twists and turns, dark moments, and something to say on the topics of religion, the state, crime, and the black arts. Instead it's a fast paced dirge bereft of anything resembling excitement or content. But, just to shock you, it has a bit of gratuitous homosexual sex to kick off the proceedings.

Whatever Welsh's intentions were with this novella, they were most certainly not achieved.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought this book was fantastic. It grips the reader, and leads them on an evocative journey through London, and closer to Marlowe's death. The story is built around historical facts, but in avoiding going up to Marlowe's death, Welsh avoids having to deal with the various theories and contradictory pieces of evidence surrounding Marlowe's murder. As for the man himself, in the book he is a witty, likeable man, and the reader connects to him, and feels for him, making his outcome even more tragic. Fantastic
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Format: Hardcover
Historically overshadowed by the Legend of the Time, Mr. Shakespeare, Christopher (Kit) Marlowe still holds a candle to the Bard, controversies, arguments, beliefs, and proofs aside. Indeed, Marlowe's great plays ("Tamburlaine the Great," "The Jew of Malta," "Doctor Faustus," " Edward II") are classic in their complexities, as now some five centuries have proven. In "Tamburlaine Must Die," Louise Welsh has taken Marlowe and engineered a tautly written (140 pages) three day episode in his life. Alas, it's the last three days of his life, but still a brief segment of it. Welsh manages to capture the tonal integrity and dynamic symmetry of the time and usher these events into an absorbing "mini-mystery/thriller."

One of the celebrated wits (and geniuses) of the Elizabethan stage, Marlowe's life on and off stage was anything but dull as he mesmerized his age (and generations thereafter) with this antics, theatrics, and devotion to his Queen and country. Much has been speculated (and little proved) in all this time; still, his is a life worth examining, and while we may never know the truth, it was still a life that continues to fascinate us. (Anthony Burgess's brilliant "A Dead Man in Deptford" is a highly recommended side-read to this book, incidentally.)

Welsh introduces us (without dispelling any of the rumors, innuendos) to Marlowe enjoying some free time away from the throes of plague-ridden London as a guest of his patron Walsingham,. This respite is suddenly interrupted by a summons from the Privy Council, setting into motion the ultimate actions of these final 72 hours. The Council gives him an offer he thinks he cannot refuse--betray Walter Raleigh or forfeit his own life, due to charges made against him (heresy, among other charges).
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