A lost masterpiece. A deadly secret buried for 500 years. And one woman determined to uncover the truth.
When London tour guide Helen Oddfellow meets a historian on the trail of a lost manuscript, she’s intrigued by the mystery – and the man. But the pair are not the only ones desperate to find the missing final play by sixteenth century playwright Christopher Marlowe. What starts as a literary puzzle quickly becomes a quest with deadly consequences.
When Helen realises the play hides an explosive religious secret, she begins to understand how much is at stake. Relying on her quick wits, she battles far-right thugs, eccentric aristocrats and an ancient religious foundation, each with their own motives for getting their hands on the manuscript. There is a price to pay for secret knowledge, but how high is too high?
Anna Sayburn Lane began her writing career as a South London newspaper reporter more than 20 years ago. Now she has transformed that experience into a twisty, intelligent contemporary thriller that delves into the rich history of South London and Kent.
The novel opens with a brutal stabbing in Deptford, in the churchyard where Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe is buried. Tour guide Helen Oddfellow is drawn into researching a historical mystery involving a lost masterpiece, a traitorous aristocrat and an explosive religious secret. She soon discovers there’s danger in today’s world in digging up secrets from the distant past.
‘The novel was inspired by a three-day walk from Southwark in Bankside to Canterbury, following the route of Chaucer’s pilgrims,’ says Sayburn Lane. ‘The route took me through lots of the places I used to cover as a newspaper reporter – Greenwich, Bexleyheath, Plumstead and Dartford. It sparked memories of some of the stories I wrote about, and also made me think about some of the writers, like Marlowe, who are linked to both Canterbury (where he was born) and London.’
Sayburn Lane, who lives in Crystal Palace and works as a freelance journalist, found an unexpected source of research close to home, in the archives of Dulwich College.
‘Amazingly, the papers of Edward Alleyne, founder of Dulwich College and a famous Elizabethan actor, and Philip Henslowe, owner of the Rose Playhouse where Marlowe and Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, are held in the library at the college,’ she says. ‘I was lucky enough to visit the archive as part of my research.’
The novel, which was shortlisted for the Virago/The Pool New Crime Writers award, is intended to be the first of a series of London-based thrillers with literary connections.
Unlawful Things will be published on October 25, priced £9.99 paperback or £2.99 e-book.