I simply adore this rollicking series by Edward Marston that centres around Nicholas Bracewell, the book holder of a very successful acting troupe, Lord Westfield’s Men in Elizabethan England. Formulaic (and I mean that in the most positive sense of the word, a reader knows what they’re going to get and is more than satisfied with the process and outcome) and utterly charming and clever, filled with rich language and wonderful humour and well as clever plotting, these novels just get better and better.
The book opens when one of Westfield’s Men shuffles off this mortal coil in an untimely fashion, leaving the troupe despondent and the playwright and share holder, Edmund Hoode, questioning his livelihood and blaming himself for the tragedy. Considering leaving the profession at which he excels (which is not unusual for Edmund), it’s not until the basis for a new play, The Roaring Boy, is placed in his hands by the mysterious Simon Chaloner, he reconsiders. It’s a manuscript based on the salacious and true events of a murder and the execution of the perpetrators, but which shockingly claims they were wrongly convicted and hints as to the real villains. Edmund, Nicholas and the rest of Westfield’s Men know they have something dangerous and wonderful in their hands, something worth honing into a performance piece that will not only shine a light on a dreadful wrong, but once again make them the toast of London.
But there are those who will do anything to prevent the play Edmund writes being performed, including murder. After all, they’ve already killed to protect their identity and what they’re really hiding, what’s a few more bodies?
Bringing late Elizabethan London and the grit, grime and calumny of the playhouses to life, Marston excels in this tale of tales, truth, falsehood, varlets and heroes. The dialogue is absolutely cracking, the characters possessed of depths and idiosyncrasies that make them leap off the page, and the plot is marvellous.
Loving this series and so will anyone who likes historical fiction, crime and just well-written stories.
Tags: crime, Edward Marston, Elizabethan London, mayhem, murder, Nicholas Bracewell, plays
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The third book in the Nicholas Bracewell series by Edward Marston, The Trip the Jerusalem ups the ante by becoming darker and more twisted in terms of plot and character motivation. So much so, it was hard to put down.
The novel opens with London in the grip of plague, so Lord Westfield’s men decide to quit London and try and earn their keep by playing at inns and country houses on the way to “Jerusalem” or York. Knowing they have to reduce the size of their company in order to make the journey viable, they make some tough decisions regarding the actors, decisions that the murder of one of the players throws into disarray.
As per usual it’s not just murder that stalks Lord Westfield’s Men, but mayhem as well as they discover that their arch rivals, Lord Banbury’s men are not only pirating their plays but managing to perform them successfully prior to their arrival at each destination. But when one of their valuable players is kidnapped, other disasters befall the troupe, and strangers join their pilgrimage, bookholder, Nicholas, requires all his intelligence and skills to outwit Banbury’s men, sort out a muddle of relationships and uncover a plot that threatens the crown.
Fast-paced, easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable (there are some laugh out loud moments) this is a terrific edition to a series that is getting better with each instalment. Part of that is because the characters are becoming more familiar and lovable (or not) but also because the language in which the tales are told and the cracking dialogue is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s plays – particularly the comedies – and there’s a richness and boldness about them that’s at once familiar, strange and lovely to read.
Tags: Edward Marston, London, murder, plague, plays, spies, The Trip to Jerusalem, York
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This was a fabulous, fast-paced story about the book holder (akin to a stage manager) for an Elizabethan theatre group – Lord Westfield’s men – named Nicholas Bracewell and how, after a friend is brutally murdered, he’s tasked with discovering the identity of the killer and seeking justice.
Ostensibly a murder mystery, this novel is so much more. The wonderful backdrop of the theatre is used to great effect as is the year this story is set – 1588, the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the one in which Elizabeth Ist’s reputation as a sovereign not to be trifled with was cemented.
Replete with wonderful details of the era, of the workings of theatre – from the writing of plays, the commissioning of them, rehearsals, attendance, costuming, and the way in which actors were viewed (at this period in Elizabeth’s reign at least it was with a great deal more respect than even ten years earlier), The Queen’s Head (which is both the name of the inn in which the troupe do most of their performances as well as gesturing to plot) is a rollicking story that brings to life an interesting group of characters, an occupation and way of life that is both exciting, difficult and unpredictable and a period that is celebrated as much for its artistic achievements, science, political turmoil and exploration as it is violence and disease – all of which are affectionately and respectfully acknowledged in this novel.
Loved this gem and have already started the next book, The Merry Devils.
Tags: Edward Marston, Elizabethan theatre, murder, Nicholas Bracewell, plays, The Queen's Head
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