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.