The marvelous Small Beer Press, which is producing anything but small beer these days, with two Shirley Jackson Awards this year alone, also produces chapbooks and shorter titles, available mostly as DRM-free direct downloads. One of them is one of the award winners, Greer Gilman’s Cry Murder! in a Small Voice, which runs to just 57 pages in the printed version and is also available as a beautifully produced short ebook. One blogger called this simply the best book of 2013.
Greer Gilman has a reputation for producing superb work very slowly, and on the basis of this book, you can see why. In immense, painstaking, linguistic detail, it resurrects Shakespearean England, and English (with equally effective intercuts to Venice), in a fashion that completely convinces but does not lag or drag. Here’s her explanation of the reason why, which goes far towards explaining the energy in the book:
I was monster angry when I wrote this. That – film Anonymous had just come out, and the media was full of its promoters, saying that the glover’s son Shakespeare wasn’t privileged enough to be a writer.
You can find the full text of her acceptance speech for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette here. And as it happens, aristocrats get pretty short shrift in this book. Because it concerns a series of mysterious murders of boy players from the theater companies of the time, which move Ben Jonson himself to investigate, soon picking up the trail of the Earl of Oxford as prime suspect. Gilman recreates the thought, spirit, feeling, and action of the time down to the inner monologues of the main characters. And since Oxford himself is too high to hang, one of the dead boys’ compatriots, Calder, must steal his way into the Earl’s chamber and seduce him to his death. So this is a highly Metaphysical (in the poetic sense) murder mystery, as well as a revenge thriller. And even though Gilman steals Peter Ackroyd’s crown as historical pasticheur once and for all, she carries the narrative along so well that you hardly notice at the time that you have been reading highly sophisticated Middle English at all.
Gilman concluded her acceptance speech by saying that Small Beer Press “call forth stories from the vasty deep. They publish monsters.” Believe it. This is a small exquisite monster of a tale. Recommended.