Historical Fiction

Double Falsehood: A Shakespearean Thriller


This book will launch on Feb 26, 2021. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒

In the hot summer of 1597, the London playhouses are nailed shut after a seditious play penned by Ben Jonson and Thomas Nash lampoons the Queen and her Privy Council. Barred from performing in their own theatre, William Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men are forced to quit London for a tour of the provinces. But as they trudge the Great West Road toward Marlborough, the troupe stumbles upon the body of a murdered nobleman. The terrified players flee the scene only to be wrongly arrested for the crime by pursuivants (agents of Elizabeth’s secret police). The arrival of the queen on a Royal Progress wins them a temporary reprieve, but Shakespeare is forced to act as spy within the royal court. He soon becomes embroiled in a dalliance with the wife of a powerful nobleman and uncovers a papist plot to assassinate Elizabeth. Caught between pursuivants and Catholic conspirators, Shakespeare must use all his powers as dramatist to craft a play (Double Falsehood) that unmasks the plot before the murderers can strike.

Chapter 1: I Am Murdered

The bullet missed my heart but punctured my lung, which explains why my breathing is wheezier than usual. I’m leaving a blood trail my murderer is surely following through the White Hart Inn. Worse yet, I’m bleeding all over the most priceless manuscript in all the world: a long-lost play by William Shakespeare, a sheaf of brittle paper so authentic the pages quiver with the Bard’s own jittery handwriting—scratch-outs, ink blots, drips and all . . . 

. . . including that crippled signature:

(Graphic of Shakespeare's signature goes in here)

I hear the distant creak of my office door easing open and shamble my wobbly legs faster. In my bloody bumblings through the Inn, I am writing the final act of my life the police forensic boys will have no trouble reading. As I reach the taproom I’m dizzy and going saggy at the knees. I stop to lean against the wall to catch my wind and notice the Scotch I poured waiting for me atop the bar. I snatch it up and take the briefest sip only to cough explosively, spattering droplets of blood and single malt across the white lath and plaster wall. How long can a podgy, middle-aged bastard like me last with such a chest wound? Will I faint before I reach the secret passage? I tripped the silent alarm so I know the police are on their way, but as usual the Rozzers will likely arrive too late to affect the outcome of this little drama.

A crash as something topples to the floor in my office. From the sound I know exactly what it is: the strong box with the day’s take. My murderer has pry-barred it open looking for the manuscript. He’ll be lucky to find a pitiful fifty quid in bills and coins. Still, it lets me know my assailant is close. 

Too flaming close. 

I push away from the wall, smearing a bloody handprint, and totter toward the kitchens. 

The narrow hallway that leads from the bar to the kitchens is pitch-friggin’-black—the bulb blew a week ago and I never got around to changing it. I’ve been effing and jeffing every time I flipped the switch and nothing happened, but now I am grateful, because the gloom conceals me. I grope along the wall until I reach the stairs down to the cellar and stumble rubber-legged down the break-neck steps and crash into the cellar door. 

The murderer would have to be deaf not to have heard that. 

I fumble the rough iron latch and the cellar door groans open onto darkness. I stagger through and bump the door shut behind me, leaning with my back against it, sucking in a breath of chill, subterranean air all yeasty from the beer barrels. For a moment it’s reviving, but then weakness surges through me in a hot flash. My knees quiver and threaten to buckle. 

Outside, footsteps scuffle along the passageway—the quiet steps of someone trying to be stealthy, a hunter pursuing his quarry. The footsteps grow distant, but then stop and double back. I strain to listen, but catch only faint, indecipherable scraping noises. Is that someone creeping down the cellar steps?

I stiffen as a footfall crunches on the other side of the door. How could my murderer track my blood trail in the dark hallway? I rummage in the pocket of my cardigan and draw out the pistol. The gun is still warm and exudes the sharp, bitter smell of cordite. I have five shots left.

Suddenly, the door barges open behind me, pitching me forward. I don’t even have time to get my hands up before my nose ploughs into the stone flags and air chuffs out of me in a pained grunt. I keep hold of the manuscript, but the gun flies from my hand and skitters away into the shadows. The cellar door flings wide, spilling just enough light to sketch a human silhouette I do not recognise. 

I am surprised. My guess was wrong. 

My murderer is not who I expected. 

About the author

Vaughn Entwistle is a British author who grew up in Northern England. After the family moved to the United States, he attended Oakland University in Michigan where he earned a Master’s Degree in English. Vaughn currently lives in Cheltenham, England. view profile

Published on February 19, 2021

110000 words

Genre: Historical Fiction