The third of Edward Marston's saga of the Elizabethan theatre (the first two being "The Queen's Head" and "The Merry Devils"), and the best of the three.
Lord Westfield's Men, the theatrical company at the centre of the books, face yet another mysterious loss. Promising young actor Gabriel Hawkes meets an untimely end. Another victim of the cut-throat competition between companies competing with one another for audiences and patronage? Maybe a jealous rival is to blame?
London, meanwhile, is racked by an outbreak of plague; with many people shunning public places, it makes sense for Westfield's Men to quit the capital for a tour of the provinces, where they will find fresh audiences, fresh air, and escape from affliction. Unfortunately, their great rivals, Banbury's Men, have had the same thought, and are intent on stealing their thunder ... and their plays.
The two companies race for York, picking up a motley selection of bosomy companions en route. Unseen by either, intrigue and secret service surveillance dog them, and it seems that either group of players could be incriminated in a Catholic plot to overthrow the queen.
Marston offers ironic asides on the vanities and insecurities of the acting profession. Lawrence Firethorn, the actor manager, is a serial adulterer, always on the lookout for likely totty: Barnaby Gill, the other leading actor in the company, has an eye for young boys; their rivalry is a source of subplot dynamic and relieves the tension as the plot builds, keeping the reader focused on the stage and its claustrophobic world rather than becoming too involved in the detail of state and politics.
The plot moves at fast pace towards its final denouement. Intriguing, engaging, entertaining, and well worth a read. ["The Nine Giants" is the next in the series.]