The Nicholas Bracewell series by Edward Marston is such a gratifying read with each instalment offering more in terms of richness of plot, insight into regular characters, terrific, witty and meaningful dialogue and immersion in Elizabethan London and, in particular, the theatre scene.
When the novel opens, Lord Westfield’s Men are undergoing something of a renaissance. Everything is running smoothly, their plays are all being well-received, Edmund Hoode, their playwright is in the throes of his muse and penning a masterpiece, the men themselves are getting along and even their cranky, unpleasant landlord has been felled by illness. Of course, this great fortune cannot last. Not far into the book, things start to go awry. Not only does one of the men, Frank Quilter, a relative newcomer to the troupe, reveal a shocking injustice with tragic consequences that’s beset his family and must be avenged, but Hoode, one of the reasons for their continued success, intends to leave the profession and thus Lord Westfield’s Men, throwing all their livelihoods into jepoardy.
Of course, Nicholas Bracewell, the troupe’s book holder, takes it upon himself to help colleagues and friends in crisis. Investigating the accusation that saw Frank’s father hanged for murder, Nicholas finds his loyalties torn. Wanting to help Frank, but finding the other shareholders of the Men are not willing to let Nicholas do so – in fact, they’re considering letting Frank go lest his name tarnish their reputation – Nicholas is in a bind.
When he nonetheless begins investigating the murder Frank’s father was said to have committed, the evidence is stacked against the man. That is, until young Moll Comfrey, a bawdy basket who had a close relationship with Quilter senior enters and says she can prove Frank’s father didn’t commit the crime he’s just been sent to his death for that everything changes.
But it’s a race against time as not only does Edmund’s leave-taking of the Men draw near, depriving the players of their playwright, but those wanting to stop Nicholas looking into the murder, scheme how to end not only his snooping, but the careers of those closest to him once and for all.
Another fast-paced, fabulous read that brings Elizabethan London and all its glory, gore and filth to life with aplomb.