This is another delightful and quite dark instalment in the Nicholas Bracewell series by Edward Marston that sees the intrepid bookkeeper of Lord Westfield’s Men, Bracewell, trying to track down the murderer of the much despised but hugely talented playwright, Jonas Applegarth.
There doesn’t seem to be anyone that larger-than-life Applegarth hasn’t offended or upset, in both words and deeds, so in terms of suspects, the list is long. While there are some content the man is dead, even if his murder (hung by the neck, while the killer laughs manically in the distance) is gruesome, that all changes. When a second murder takes place, this time of a gentle soul, and again in a theatre, the actors are most distressed and Nick especially determines to track down who it is that has not only actors, but anyone involved in theatre in their wicked sights.
Once again, Marston brings Elizabethan London, in all its gory glory to life. Replete with wonderful, full-bodied language and characters – both within the acting troupe and the secondary characters introduced with each new novel – who make you laugh, wince at their vanity, and cheer their bravery and foolhardiness, this series just gets better and better. Whether it’s Lawrence Firethorn and his virago-wife Margery, or lovelorn Edmund Hoode or the egocentric and narcissistic Barnaby Gill, all of whom are somehow managed by level-headed Nicholas, the characters are consistent, often hilarious and the plots they become embroiled in tight, even if, like the stage upon which they strut, you have to suspend your disbelief. Furthermore, the history is accurate and interesting without being didactic.
For lovers of historical fiction, crime and just rollicking good reads.