In the Fall of 1590, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, playwright and news pamphlet writer Connolly Flynn is about to have his first play produced at the Rose Theater in London, when a body found floating in the Thames turns his life upside down. Investigating the death for the sensational Red Pepper news pamphlet, he is shocked to learn that he knows the murder victim, and that despite overwhelming evidence of foul play, the Coroner is insisting on a verdict of suicide.
The more that Connolly digs into his friend’s death, the deeper he gets entangled in a devious plot that goes far beyond anything he could have imagined. Besides going up against the Coroner, the Sheriff of London, most of the city’s Constables, and a renegade Spanish waterman, he must also face the full enmity of one of England’s most powerful families, putting his own life and the lives of his friends and family in mortal danger.
The story is set in greater London, including the area known as Southwark, south of the Thames. This is where Londoners went for their entertainment. It was the location of the Rose Theater, built a few years before Shakespeare's Globe. Nearby were the Bear and Bull baiting rings, two of London's most popular entertainment spectacles. The Thames, ever present in London daily life, is the setting for a good deal of the action, including a close encounter with death for Connolly Flynn.
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