Promo: Twelve Nights by Penny Ingham

Today, I'm delighted to welcome Penny Ingham to Ruins & Reading. Penny's new release, Twelve Nights, is a murder mystery set in Elizabethan London. We're sharing a snippet from the novel. Well worth having a look!

Twelve Nights is currently on blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. Find other enticing snippets here!

Twelve Nights

The Heavenly Charmers

by Penny Ingham


Magdalen was beginning to wish she had crept back to Silver Street. Her world had turned upside down and she had no idea how to set it right again. She put her head in her hands, and her obvious distress cast an even greater pall over the gathering. At length, William Kempe’s bulbous eyes slid to the landlord.

‘Perhaps Francis murdered John? He’s best placed to slip something in his beer.’

They all turned to look at Francis Johnson. He was dunking dirty cups into a bucket of equally dirty water before slamming them back onto the board.

‘It’s possible,’ Burbage replied. ‘But I’ve never taken Johnson for a murderer. And what motive could he have?’

‘None that I can think of,’ Kempe admitted.

Magdalen remembered Richard Cowley’s rapier piercing John’s doublet. Could it have nicked John’s skin? If the tip was poisoned, could it have been enough to kill him? She looked up, into Richard’s eyes.

‘Poison is a woman’s weapon,’ he repeated, seeming to have read her mind. ‘A coward’s game. There’s no honour in it.’

‘When is there ever honour in murder?’ she shot back but Richard had already turned away, gesturing to a serving girl for more Mad Dog.

The shadows lengthened. The landlord lit the fire, the serving girls laid out soggy saffron cakes, and the players’ spirits began to lift, warmed by the crackling fire, and by wine and cakes and ale. And with every cup of Rhenish she drank, Magdalen’s spirits lifted a little too. The tavern was starting to fill up. Word spread fast through Shoreditch, and now all the poets and playwrights who had ever felt envious of Burbage’s lauded band of brothers were crawling out of the woodwork to gloat over their misfortune. 

Christopher Marlowe arrived, and the tavern lit up as if the stars had fallen through the thatch. He greeted them all in turn, embracing some, kissing others on the lips. But he offered no kiss to Will. Instead, they simply shook hands like two fencers before a bout. It seemed fitting, for they were presently engaged in an increasingly spectacular play-writing dual, lobbing masterpieces at each other across the Thames. When Marlowe attacked with the gore-fest Tamburlaine, Will struck back with blood-soaked Titus Andronicus. Marlowe lunged with his study of a weak king, Edward the Second, so Will parried with Richard the Second. All of London was waiting to see how Will would respond to Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.

‘William.’ Marlowe released Will’s hand, and moved on.

‘Christopher,’ Will replied and turned back to his beer.

Magdalen found their relationship hard to fathom, but hidden beneath the jealousy and rivalry, she often suspected a lurking mutual respect.

Stepping over Robert Greene, who had fallen asleep on the floor, Marlowe sat down beside her. ‘How now, Magdalen?’

She nodded absently. She had drunk a great deal of Rhenish, but she would never admit her inebriation, not even to Marlowe because it was not seemly. But he must have noticed her glazed expression because that familiar, half-smile was playing on his lips, as if he was enjoying his own private joke at the world’s expense. Although he was fast approaching thirty years of age, there was still a boyish charm to his features; the soft doe-eyes, the beard-less cheeks, the wisps of a moustache above full, generous lips.

‘I think you’ve had enough of this.’ He picked up her cup of Rhenish, and proceeded to drain it.

‘Hey!’ she exclaimed but it was a half-hearted protest, for her head was pounding like cannon fire.

‘You will have heard about the constable?’ she said quietly.

‘Edmund Stow is highly fed and lowly taught. Pay no heed to him,’ Marlowe replied airily.

‘But what if the Puritans bribe the coroner to convict me? We all know they are looking for an excuse to close us down.’

He shook his head. ‘I won’t let that happen.’

She wished she could believe him, but Marlowe was the most unreliable man on earth. He had recently fought in a brawl which had resulted in an inn-keeper’s death. Although it was his friend, Thomas Watson, who had struck the fatal blow, they were both hauled off to Newgate prison to await trial. Marlowe had been released a month later, miraculously without charge. Perhaps he really did believe he was invincible now. In the history books in Will’s room the ancient Greeks had called it hubris, and no good had ever come of it.

‘You look like Christmas, Magdalen.’

‘Christmas?’ she repeated, bemused.

‘Yes, your green kirtle, your red jacket.’ Marlowe broke into song, ‘the holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown.’ He had a beautiful baritone voice.

‘And you look -’ she eyed his tawny-orange doublet slashed to reveal yellow satin beneath; the wafer-soft, wide collar falling across his shoulders; the row of shiny buttons marching down his chest and belly. He had come into money recently, of that there was no doubt. ‘You look like a pageant, as always, Marlowe.’

‘Tawny is the colour of mourning, is it not?’ he asked with feigned innocence.

Magdalen laughed, but it made her head hurt.

‘You remind me of my sister,’ he said, suddenly serious.

‘I didn’t know you had a sister,’ she said, taken aback.

‘Her laugh sounded just like yours. There was something so joyous about it.’

Magdalen noticed he was using the past tense. ‘Is she -’ she began cautiously, but Marlowe spoke over her.

‘She was married at twelve years old, and she died in childbirth at the age of thirteen.’

Magdalen’s heart lurched with pity. ‘Oh! I am so sorry…’

He was staring into the distance now, his eyes full of bitterness and remembered grief. Marlowe was a man of bluster and bravado; his every word designed to shock or offend. She had known him for ten years and in all that time, she had never seen his defences down. But now, the window to his soul was open wide and the view was so unexpected and so intimate, she felt obliged to hastily avert her eyes.

When Marlowe spoke again, he no longer sounded sad but angry. ‘Answer me this. How can you have faith in God when he allowed my sister to die in agony?’



1592. The Theatre, London.

When a player is murdered, suspicion falls on the wardrobe mistress, Magdalen Bisset, because everyone knows poison is a woman’s weapon. The coroner is convinced of her guilt. The scandal-pamphlets demonize her.

Magdalen is innocent, although few are willing to help her prove it. Only handsome Matthew Hilliard offers his assistance, but dare she trust him when nothing about him rings true?

With just two weeks until the inquest, Magdalen ignores anonymous threats to ‘leave it be’, and delves into the dangerous underworld of a city seething with religious and racial tension. As time runs out, she must risk everything in her search for the true killer - for all other roads lead to the gallows.

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About the Author:

Penny Ingham

Penny has a degree in Classics, and a passion for archaeology – during the summer months, you will often find her on her a ‘dig’ with a trowel in her hand. She has had a variety of jobs over the years, including ice-cream seller, theatre PR, BBC local radio, and TV critic for a British Forces newspaper.

She has written four novels – The King’s Daughter is the story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians. The Saxon Wolves and The Saxon Plague are set in the turbulent aftermath of Roman Britain. Her inspiration for Twelve Nights grew from her love of the theatre in general, and Shakespeare in particular.

Penny has two grown up children and lives with her husband in Hampshire.

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