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The Queen's Head [Paperback]

Edward Marston
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 1 1989
1587, and Mary, Queen of Scots, dies by the executioner's axe, her head, shorn of its auburn wig, rolling across the platform. Will her death end the ceaseless plotting against Mary's red-haired cousin, Elizabeth?
1588, the year of the Spanish Armada, is a time of more terror and triumph, not just for queen and court but for the whole of England. The turmoil is reflected in its theatres and under the galleries of inns like London's The Queen's Head where Lord Westfield's Men perform. The scene there on grows even more tumultuous when one of the actors is murdered by a mysterious stranger during a brawl.
Nicholas Bracewell, the company's bookholder, a role far wider than mere producer, faces two immediate repercussions. The first is to secure a replacement acceptable to its temperamental star -- and chief shareholder -- Lawrence Firethorn. The second is to keep his promise to the dying Will Fowler and catch his killer.
Soon further robberies, accidents, and misfortunes strike Lord Westfield's Men even as their stage successes swell. Bracewell begins to suspect a conspiracy, not a single murderous act, but where lies the proof? Then the players are rewarded with the ultimate accolade -- an appearance at court -- and the canny bookholder senses the end to the drama is at hand....
First published to great acclaim in 1988, The Queen's Head anticipated the lure of bawdy, boisterous, yet elegant epics like Shakespeare in Love. Actor and playwrite Marston has followed with, to date, ten more lusty, historically grounded, theatrically sound Bracewell mysteries that explore the face of England and reveal his deep love for its rich literary and dramatic heritage. The Roaring Boy wasnominated for a 1996 Edgar Award for Best Novel.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Amiable, intelligent, and efficient protagonist Nicholas Bracewell serves as book holder for Lord Westfield's Men, a troupe of actors headquartered at the Queen's Head Inn. Boisterous, rough-and-tumble 1588 London life permeates this behind-the-scenes description of Elizabethan theater. Nicholas promises a dying actor friend--stabbed in an apparently spontaneous tavern brawl--that he will avenge him and immediately begins his search for the ruthless "redbeard." Serious tone, genteel language, a sense of historical presence, and well-sketched characters comprise a sterling performance.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Not all knives are props March 24 2010
By L. J. Roberts TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
First Sentence: Death stalked her patiently throughout the whole of her imprisonment.

Mary, Queen of Scots, is dead and the Spanish Armada has been defeated. In celebration, Lord Westfield's Men is preparing to present a new play, 'The Loyal Subject.' The company is beset with problems beginning with the death of an actor in a bar brawl. Nicholas Bracewell, the company's manager and keeper of the books, was present and promised to find his friend's killer. As other incidents occur, Bracewell suspects much more is at stake.

After a very dramatic opening, Marston moves on to bring the inner working of Elizabethan theater to life. Some elements--the hard work, competitiveness, jealousies, stagecraft and disappointment'haven't changed through time.

It is interesting to learn about the role of the keeper of the books and to learn how special effects were done. It is the structure of acting companies and the legal and political aspects were very different and make this fascinating.

The sense of time and place are elements I should liked to have been stronger. It was there but not as evocative as it could have been. However, one of the appeals of stories set in London is that many of the locations still exist today. The inclusion of a map would have been nice. The dialogue flowed well and did hint to the period. That did help.

I like Marston's characters. Even those who play to stereotype are enough developed that they don't read flat. Bracewell is certainly the most developed of the characters and is very interesting. I learn enough about who he is to have gained my empathy, while knowing there is much more I want to learn.

I felt the plot was very well done with a very good flow to it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Elizabethan Drama March 2 2004
Format:Paperback
Edward Marston is the pseudonym of Welsh writer Keith Miles, and this is the first of a series of whodunits set in the Elizabethan era. Marston introduces us to Lord Westfield's Men, a company of actors, and to one Nicholas Bracewell, a resourceful hero who prefers to work behind the scenes rather than push himself to centre stage.
Marston constructs his plots like the action of a play - you see the actors, you are left to guess at what goes on behind the scenes. It's the stuff of crime fiction, an adult version of the child's peekaboo game.
Atmospheric, well-paced, "The Queen's Head" has a relatively slow start as the scene - a very English, London-based scene - is set. It is one of national alarm as the Spanish Armada sets sail into the Channel, threatening to depose the English queen and substitute Catholic for Protestant rule. These stately galleons are, however, about to be engaged by a diminutive English fleet of privateers and part-time pirates, men who can play the hero or villain at the drop of a cannon ball.
The focus, however, is definitely on the on-stage action: the historical background exists, but it is never allowed to intrude so thoroughly as to swamp the plot or confuse the reader who has little knowledge of the era. We get a sense of bawdiness, violence, the notoriety which surrounded the theatre, and the constant struggle to strike a balance between censorship and licence.
On stage, Westfield's Men contest with their rivals, Banbury's Men, for public attention, approbation, and profit. It is a cut-throat business - when leading actor Will Fowler is murdered, it proves to be the first of a series of disasters Westfield's Men will face. Someone seems determined to silence them. A rival playwright? A rival company?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Stuff March 29 2001
Format:Paperback
An Elizabethan theater troop is bedeviled by mishaps, including the murder of one its players in a tavern brawl, the theft of its one complete copy of the script with stage directions for a performance before the queen, an attempt to kill on the young boys who plays the female roles, and others. "Book holder" (akin to the director with extra duties) Nicholas Bracewell hunts for the killer while trying to hold the troop together. Great period details. General bawdiness and terrific dialogue add up to a fun read. Also, don't miss Marston's other series, which follows a group of traveling magistrates just after the Norman conquest of England. More terrific historical whodunits.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Murder and Mayhem in Elizabethan England Aug. 9 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The year is 1588, England is at war with Spain, Queen Elizabeth I is on the throne, and London is a bawdy, boisterous mix of courtly elegance and general squalor. Against this background, Marston paints a picture of the precarious life of a small theater group, Lord Westfield's Men, who perform in the galleried courtyard of a pub called the Queen's Head. Nicholas Bracewell, the company's bookholder, not only holds the troupe together but also solves a murder in the bargain. The wild and colorful period comes vividly to life in Marston's mystery.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Stuff March 29 2001
By Sean T. Carnathan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An Elizabethan theater troop is bedeviled by mishaps, including the murder of one its players in a tavern brawl, the theft of its one complete copy of the script with stage directions for a performance before the queen, an attempt to kill on the young boys who plays the female roles, and others. "Book holder" (akin to the director with extra duties) Nicholas Bracewell hunts for the killer while trying to hold the troop together. Great period details. General bawdiness and terrific dialogue add up to a fun read. Also, don't miss Marston's other series, which follows a group of traveling magistrates just after the Norman conquest of England. More terrific historical whodunits.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First in the Elizabethan Theatre Series Nov. 29 2006
By J. Chippindale - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Edward Marston is the pseudonym of Keith Miles, a fairly prolific and extremely good writer of mainly Elizabethan and medieval mysteries. He has also written mysteries under his own name with both sporting and golf backgrounds. However it is primarily the books that take place earlier in history that I am interested in. He read modern history at Oxford and has had many jobs, including university lecturer, but fortunately for all his readers, he turned to the writing profession.

This book is one of his early offerings. In the year 1587 Mary, Queen of Scots head is separated from her body by one quick stroke of the headsman's axe, but will her death staunch the ceaseless plotting against her cousin, Elizabeth of England. A year later and the Spanish send their Armada to the very shores of England. It is a time of both terror, uncertainty and triumph.

All of these happenings are mirrored on the stages of theatres and inns all over London, but when a real life murder occurs within a troop of actors, Nicholas Bracewell, the company's book holder, an important role within the group of actors, has a twofold task. First to find a replacement for the unfortunate actor and secondly how to go about keeping his promise to the dying man and track down his killer.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not all knives are props March 24 2010
By L. J. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
First Sentence: Death stalked her patiently throughout the whole of her imprisonment.

Mary, Queen of Scots, is dead and the Spanish Armada has been defeated. In celebration, Lord Westfield's Men is preparing to present a new play, "The Loyal Subject." The company is beset with problems beginning with the death of an actor in a bar brawl. Nicholas Bracewell, the company's manager and keeper of the books, was present and promised to find his friend's killer. As other incidents occur, Bracewell suspects much more is at stake.

After a very dramatic opening, Marston moves on to bring the inner working of Elizabethan theater to life. Some elements--the hard work, competitiveness, jealousies, stagecraft and disappointment--haven't changed through time.

It is interesting to learn about the role of the keeper of the books and to learn how special effects were done. It is the structure of acting companies and the legal and political aspects were very different and make this fascinating.

The sense of time and place are elements I should liked to have been stronger. It was there but not as evocative as it could have been. However, one of the appeals of stories set in London is that many of the locations still exist today. The inclusion of a map would have been nice. The dialogue flowed well and did hint to the period. That did help.

I like Marston's characters. Even those who play to stereotype are enough developed that they don't read flat. Bracewell is certainly the most developed of the characters and is very interesting. I learn enough about who he is to have gained my empathy, while knowing there is much more I want to learn.

I felt the plot was very well done with a very good flow to it. It certainly kept my interested to where it was one of those books I read straight through. The climactic scene was very well done, even for my having figured it out. However, there is a very good twist on motive and its revelation leads to one of the truest lines written.

While I enjoyed the Elizabethan theater series by Philip Gooden, judging only by this first book, this may be a better series. The second book awaits me.

THE QUEEN'S HEAD (Hist Mys-Nicholas Bracewell-London-Elizabethan/1500s) - VG
Marston, Edward - 1st in Bracewell series
St. Martin's Press, ©1998, US Hardcover - ISBN: 0312029705
4.0 out of 5 stars Not sorry I read it April 22 2014
By D. Wills - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Once I got into the story line, I actually enjoyed the book. I skimmed over some parts, but did in fact like the book.
4.0 out of 5 stars Gem of a book Dec 5 2013
By Karen B - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was a fabulous, fast-paced story about the book holder (akin to a stage manager) for an Elizabethan theatre group – Lord Westfield’s men – named Nicholas Bracewell and how, after a friend is brutally murdered, he’s tasked with discovering the identity of the killer and seeking justice.
Ostensibly a murder mystery, this novel is so much more. The wonderful backdrop of the theatre is used to great effect as is the year this story is set – 1588, the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the one in which Elizabeth Ist’s reputation as a sovereign not to be trifled with was cemented.
Replete with wonderful details of the era, of the workings of theatre - from the writing of plays, the commissioning of them, rehearsals, attendance, costuming, and the way in which actors were viewed (at this period in Elizabeth’s reign at least it was with a great deal more respect than even ten years earlier), The Queen’s Head (which is both the name of the inn in which the troupe do most of their performances as well as gesturing to plot) is a rollicking story that brings to life an interesting group of characters, an occupation and way of life that is both exciting, difficult and unpredictable and a period that is celebrated as much for its artistic achievements, science, political turmoil and exploration as it is violence and disease – all of which are affectionately and respectfully acknowledged in this novel.
Loved this gem and have already started the next book, The Merry Devils.
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