A Tip for the Hangman

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Christopher Marlowe, a brilliant aspiring playwright, is pulled into the duplicitous world of international espionage on behalf of queen and country. A many-layered Elizabethan thriller combining state secrets, intrigue, and romance worthy of Marlowe’s own timeless works.

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 theatre 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 theatre 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.

Praise for A Tip for the Hangman

  • Most Anticipated of February 2021, Barnes & Noble
  • Most Anticipated of 2021, Chicago Tribune
  • Reading List for Best Genre Fiction 2022 (Shortlist), ALA
  • Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (Notable Mention), CrimeReads

“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

“The spy thriller, historical fiction queer mashup of your dreams, A Tip for the Hangman is a literary tour-de-force from debut author Allison Epstein. Meticulously researched and beautifully crafted, this novel takes you inside the spy network of Tudor England and illuminates the splendid, twisted lives the spies themselves lead.”
—Barnes and Noble, Most Anticipated New Book Releases of February 2021

“[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 spywork bankrolls a rather promising career… a clever Netflix binge.”
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.
—Crime Reads

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

“Exceptional, highly entertaining. . . this wonderful debut novel is solid escapism at its best.”
Lansing State Journal

“This masterfully researched, beautifully written novel takes the reader inside the spy networks, taverns, theatres, and halls of power of Tudor England… Epstein is a talent to watch, and A Tip for the Hangman is not to be missed!”
—Alyssa Palombo, author of The Borgia Confessions

“[T]he 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… Epstein [is] a gifted writer who is in command of her prodigious talent.”
—Lee Irby, author of Unreliable

“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 brilliantly-researched novel.”
—Ellen Kushner, author of Swordspoint

“Epstein’s diverting debut gallivants through Elizabethan England . . . a fun escapade.”
—Publishers Weekly

“In her stunning debut, A Tip for the Hangman … Epstein expertly weaves in authentic social, political and religious details, creating a compelling and evocative story that soars.”
—Susanna Calkins, author of the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries

“Anyone who likes Elizabethan bad boys, theater, spies, high intrigue, suspense, and sex is going to be delighted by A Tip for the Hangman… Christopher Marlowe himself would have loved it. I certainly did.”
—Delia Sherman, author of The Porcelain Dove

“[T]hrilling and romantic… Epstein successfully evokes both the beauty and the brutality of 16th-century England.”
—Historical Novel Society