A Tip for the Hangman: A Novel (Hardcover)
Christopher Marlowe, a brilliant aspiring playwright, is pulled into the duplicitous world of international espionage on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. A many-layered historical thriller combining state secrets, intrigue, and romance.
England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe's last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, who has come with an unorthodox career opportunity. Her Majesty's spies are in need of new recruits, and Kit's flexible moral compass has drawn their attention. Kit, a scholarship student without money or prospects, accepts the offer, and after his training the game is on. Kit is dispatched to the chilly manor where Mary, Queen of Scots is under house arrest, to act as a servant in her household and keep his ear to the ground for a Catholic plot to put Mary on the throne.
While observing Mary, Kit learns more than he bargained for. The ripple effects of his service to the Crown are far-reaching and leave Kit a changed man. But there are benefits as well. The salary he earns through his spywork allows him to mount his first play, and over the following years, he becomes the toast of London's raucous theater scene. But when Kit finds himself reluctantly drawn back into the uncertain world of espionage, conspiracy, and high treason, he realizes everything he's worked so hard to attain--including the trust of the man he loves--could vanish before his very eyes.
Pairing modern language with period detail, Allison Epstein brings Elizabeth's privy council, Marlowe's lovable theater troupe, and the squalor of sixteenth-century London to vivid, teeming life as Kit wends his way behind the scenes of some of Tudor history's most memorable moments. At the center of the action is Kit himself--an irrepressible, irreverent force of nature. Thrillingly written, full of poetry and danger, A Tip for the Hangman brings an unforgettable protagonist to new life, and makes a centuries-old story feel utterly contemporary.
About the Author
ALLISON EPSTEIN earned her M.F.A. in fiction from Northwestern University and a B.A. in creative writing and Renaissance literature from the University of Michigan. A Michigan native, she now lives in Chicago, where she works as a copywriter for clients in higher education and the arts. When not writing, she enjoys good theater, bad puns, and fancy jackets. A Tip for the Hangman is her first novel.
“Epstein presents Marlowe as supremely capable, something of a trickster, a consummate liar, a fiendish lover – and someone capable of murder . . . The suspense is palpable, as is the sense of doom, as Marlowe finds himself in thrall to a devil’s bargain.”
--The New York Times Book Review
"Allison Epstein pens a vivid, unforgettable hero in Kit Marlowe, Elizabethan playwright-turned-spy always sprinting one step ahead of disaster and talking a blue streak as he does so. Recruited by Elizabeth I's spymaster to infiltrate the cabal of Mary Queen of Scots, Kit finds his conscience tested to the limit even as his heart yearns for an unattainable beloved. A Tip for the Hangman is simultaneously moving, unsettling, hilarious, and tragic--a debut that will linger long after the last page is turned."
--Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network
"[Epstein's] fizzy debut is a Tudor espionage tale, set among spies close to Mary, Queen of Scots. One of them is Christopher Marlowe, whose spy work bankrolls a rather promising theater career. It’s more of a clever Netflix binge than a Hilary Mantel historical masterpiece — and that’s perfectly fine."
--The Chicago Tribune, 25 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2021
"In Epstein’s fun, irreverent debut, [Christopher Marlowe] takes center stage in a spy thriller. The real Marlowe’s plays were incredibly popular in his time, due to his use of exciting plot twists and lots of murder. Epstein presents Marlowe’s story here as the playwright may have told it himself: full of adventure, fun . . . and murder."
"Epstein’s debut is a clever concoction of genres, with a generous helping of historical fiction, espionage, class critique, and theatrical flair. . . Epstein vividly conjures up the world of Elizabethan theater, building off details of the scene’s wild history, and adds on top a genuinely compelling spy story, creating an exuberant, irreverent romp through literary history.
“A Tip for the Hangman draws you into a morally convoluted world of spies, treason, politics, romance and murder. With a witty, captivating protagonist and fast-paced adventure, it’s the sort of book you should never pick up before bedtime lest you look out the window to see the sun rising. This is easily one of 2021’s best historical fiction books to date."
--The Michigan Daily
"Stunning. With wit and humor, Epstein expertly weaves in authentic social, political and religious details, creating a compelling and evocative story that soars. Fans of thrilling historical fiction will be highly engaged by this fast-paced read."
--Susanna Calkins, author of the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries
"Debut author Allison Epstein delivers an absolute tour de force. This masterfully researched, beautifully written novel takes the reader inside the spy networks, taverns, theatres, and halls of power of Tudor England, with the irreverent Christopher Marlowe as our guide. Epstein is a talent to watch!"
--Alyssa Palombo, author of The Borgia Confessions
"Allison Epstein's imaginative take on Christopher Marlowe is virtuoso on many levels. Her London is perfectly rendered in all its pungence and pageantry. But the double-crossing, the moral ambiguity, and the bloodlust all give fresh legs to a literary mystery that has as much Philip as Kit Marlowe in it."
--Lee Irby, author of Unreliable
"Epstein’s diverting debut gallivants through Elizabethan England . . . a fun escapade."
“[T]hrilling and romantic . . . Epstein successfully evokes both the beauty and the brutality of 16th-century England.”
--Historical Novel Society
"Exceptional, highly entertaining. . . this wonderful debut novel is solid escapism at its best."
--Lansing State Journal
“Anyone who likes Elizabethan bad boys, theater, spies, high intrigue, suspense, and sex is going to be delighted by A Tip for the Hangman. The writing goes down like a pint of good ale on a hot day and the characters are excellent company to enjoy it with. Christopher Marlowe himself would have loved it. I certainly did."
--Delia Sherman, author of The Porcelain Dove
"The Christopher Marlowe book we’ve been waiting for! Here is the sexy, witty, self-destructive genius who can’t stay out of trouble, blazing through an Elizabethan period that comes vividly to life in Epstein's well-researched novel. Epstein's sentences shine, with nothing fussy or ‘Ye Olde’ about them. More than once I was stopped dead by a sentence that nailed me in my tracks with its insight and clarity.”
--Ellen Kushner, author of Swordspoint
"A historical thriller filled with spies, royal secrets, and deadly intrigue."
--The Young Folks