cover image The Queen's Head

The Queen's Head

Edward Marston. St. Martin's Press, $16.95 (236pp) ISBN 978-0-312-02970-8

Marston launches a series with this first appearance of Nicholas Bracewell, ``book holder'' for an English theatrical company in 1588. Not only the prompter but also the wise manager of the group, Bracewell must cope with temperamental thespians and other, more grave crises. As England rejoices in the triumph over the Spanish Armada, the troupe rehearses a play honoring Queen Elizabeth, which she will attend. Hopes for a gala performance are dashed when a villain named ``Redbeard'' kills actor Will Fowler; that event and other incidents lead Bracewell to suspect a plot to ruin the company. Helped by Sam Ruff, who substitutes for Fowler, the manager keeps up morale and takes steps to guard against Redbeard in advance of the queen's arrival at the theater. Marston's exhilarating mystery, ending with a bang-up close--on and off stage--is colored by details about the acting profession at that time and, sadly, about the era's mortal quarrels between Catholics and Protestants. (June)