Right from the start of British author Marston's clever historical, the 14th entry in his Nicholas Bracewell series (after 2003's The Vagabond Clown
), troubles beset the Westfield Players. Bracewell's sleuthing skills are much needed after playwright Edmund Hoode collapses from "falling sickness," stage carpenter Nathan Curtis and tireman Hugh Wegges lose their purses to a gambler, and gatherer Lucas Peebles is robbed of all the ticket money. The hapless group then suffers the ultimate indignity when their costumes are stolen and they're forced to perform in borrowed outfits "visibly the wrong size, shape, and color." Amid all this distress, a tender romantic interlude between "counterfeit crank" Hywel Rees, an actor of a different sort, and his beloved Dorothea turns tragic when the two are imprisoned in Bridewell Palace, once a royal residence, now a house of ill repute. These intrigues move rapidly with scene changes and subplots reminiscent of an Elizabethan stage play, and lead to a breathtaking finale when Nicholas and company use their stock-in-trade disguises to unmask a fraudulent operation close to home. A handy dramatis personae helps us keep all the names straight in this complex but beguiling tale. (Aug. 11)
Marston is the pseudonym of Keith Miles.