Cry Murder! in a Small Voice

Greer Gilman  - published September 2013

September 2013 · saddle-stitched paperback, 978-1-61873-077-0 · ebook, 978-1-61873-078-7
May 2014 · second printing
March 2016 · third printing

Shirley Jackson Award winner.

London, 1603.

Ben Jonson, playwright, poet, satirist . . . detective?

Someone is murdering boy players and Jonson, in the way that only Greer Gilman could write him — “Fie, poetastery.” — is compelled to investigate. Cry Murder! in a Small Voice is a dense poetic novella that mesmerizes, horrifies, and fascinates.

Reviews and Reactions

“Exceptional. . . . It’s a historical crime story, with a frisson of the fantastical bubbling at its edges. The hero is Ben Jonson, drawn some-what against his will to investigating the murder of a boy actor. . . . Jonson’s investigation, and eventual action against Oxford, with the help of another boy actor, is nicely told, with plenty of period atmosphere that rang utterly true to me (no expert, mind you). But, as we expect from Gilman, the real payoff is the prose. Gilman here is mimicking Elizabethan English, and as such I found the writing a bit more readily comprehensible than the remarkable but somewhat difficult prose of her Cloud stories. It’s also very funny at times, especially during Jonson’s conversation with Robin Armin, the actor who played the comic parts in Shakespeare’s later plays.”
—Rich Horton, Locus

“A brilliant, small, dense piece of work from a writer playing to great effect with a fascinating set of historical figures. The dualistic structure — a sort of two-faced narrative, a coin-flip of a story — lingers with me, the frightful mystery and the underlying presence in it alike. I wholeheartedly recommend investing some time and effort giving it a read, or two.”
—Brit Mandelo,

“What is a story but the dance of words ? Greer Gilman’s language is always demanding : even short declarative sentences resonate with layers of meaning. The longer cadences are nimble, tricky on the tongue and in that place in the brain where deliberate allusions float like wisps of smoke on a winter morning or snap as flags in a furious gale. It is hugely ambitious to encode so much of the Elizabethan theater into a murder mystery staged upon the hinge of the modern world. That Gilman accomplishes this tale within the space of fifty-two pages is brilliant, contrarian, and wholly admirable.”
— Henry Wessells, The Endless Bookshelf, “The Best Book of 2013”

“This goes well beyond mere meticulous research. Gilman pulls us into the milieu with an intense immediacy, as if she had just stepped out of the Globe’s tiring-room . . . But the real richness here is the language. It is not Shakespeare’s language, not Jonson’s, but Gilman’s own unique and inimitable wordcraft . . . This is to savor.”
—Lois Tilton, Locus

“A jewel of a novella.”
Strange Horizons

“A delight. Greer Gilman’s Cry Murder! in a Small Voice is a highly original, thought-provoking and beautifully polished tale; a short story written in a chewy, glistening Jacobethan prose which is entirely the author’s invention.”

Cover by Kathleen Jennings.

 An excerpt:

“The Devil is an ass, I do acknowledge it.”
—Ben Jonson

Venice, 1604

A coil of scarlet round the sweet boy’s neck: swan-white he lay, his whiter smock outspread as snow, his hand—O piteous!—imploring still. Venetia dead. Above her stood her lord and lover, still as if he held the loop of cord. A silence—

Mummery, thought Ben, remembering. The play was trash. Unworthy of the getting up, the less at court. ’Twas tailor-work: a deal of bombast and a farthing lace. And yet these shadows haunted him, foreshadows of an act unseen: the boy, not feigning now; the sullied smock; the cord. The Slip-Knott drew him in, inwove him in a play of shadows; now had tugged him halfway to Byzantium in its service. Enter Posthumus: a player-poet with a hand in Fate. Though he’d a quarrel to his fellow maker, History: that it wanted art. To lay a scene in Venice, helter-skelter—! Bah. The unities—But soft. On stage, the tyrant speaks. . . .

Greer Gilman’s mythic fictions Moonwise and Cloud & Ashes: Three Winter’s Tales have (between them) won the Tiptree, World Fantasy, and Crawford Awards, and have been shortlisted for the Nebula and Mythopoeic awards. Besides her two books, she has published other short work, poetry, and criticism. Her essay on “The Languages of the Fantastic” appears in The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature. A graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Cambridge, and a sometime forensic librarian at Harvard, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She likes to quip that she does everything James Joyce ever did, only backward and in high heels.