The Bartholomew Fair Murders

A handsome young religious fanatic named Gabriel Stubbs kills a puppet master who has offered him company and transportation on the road to London. Inflamed by a Puritan pamphlet that describes Satan’s disguises, Stubbs defaces his victim with what look like claw scratches, the mark of the beast.

The body is examined by Matthew Stock, a small-town clothier and county constable who is journeying on the same road toward Bartholomew Fair with his wife Joan. At the fair, Matthew meets Ned Babcock, an old acquaintance now managing a bearbaiting exhibition. Gabriel Stubbs has secured a job as attendant to Samson the Bear after disposing of the previous helper and casting suspicion for the death on the bear itself.

Joan Stock is deeply shaken by the warnings of a palm reader who foresees imminent danger to Joan and Matthew. More deaths ensue, characterized by bear-like slashes; one victim is drowned in a butt of malmsey wine.

Matthew is empowered to investigate the crimes, urged to expedite matters by Sir Robert Cecil, the Queen’s Principal Secretary. Now old and infirm, Elizabeth is determined to attend Bartholomew Fair and to mingle with her subjects. Under present circumstances, although her visit is astute politically, it is personally dangerous. Sensitive to Joan’s powers of observation, Matthew identifies a murderer. Soon after, Joan herself alerts the Queen’s guardians to yet another menace.

Author Leonard Tourney, a professor of English, has produced several earlier mysteries with this setting, and the Elizabethan ambiance is accordingly authoritative, if somewhat overburdened with odoriferous sewage and greasy jerkins. Queen Elizabeth’s disposition toward Shakespearean rhetoric is happily absent from the other characters and from the exposition. The bearbaiting provides an engrossing centerpiece to the story.