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The Vagabond Clown: An Elizabethan Theater Mystery Featuring Nicholas Bracewell Hardcover – August 5, 2003
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"This was no random act of malice," proclaims stage manager Nicholas Bracewell, after an audience brawl disrupts the latest comedic performance by Westfield's Men, in Edward Marston's The Vagabond Clown. If there was any doubt of design behind this affray, it's quickly dispelled by the discovery of a dead spectator in the gallery, Fortunates Hope--stabbed in the back. So who wielded the dagger, and why? Bracewell and the other members of his troupe haven't the time to find out, before they are ousted from their usual stage in Elizabethan London and forced to take to the road for their income, beginning a tour of the Kent countryside that will bring them even more trouble than they could typically find in the English capital.
Misfortune is guaranteed when--needing a clown to stand-in for the querulous Barnaby Gill, whose leg was broken during the riot--the company hires his hated but gifted rival, Gideon Mussett. Aware of Mussett's reputation for "drunkenness and truculence," Bracewell wrests from him a pledge to behave. However, this proxy jester proves difficult to handle from the outset, and only becomes more so as his performances gain Westfield's Men acclaim. Among his supposed infractions are several prankish attacks on the injured Gill, who has insisted on traveling with Westfield's Men in order to ensure that Mussett won't try usurping his position. But Bracewell thinks fault for his company's recent adversities may lie, instead, with another, less successful band of thespians who are also traveling through the area, and whose patron knew the murdered Hope. He's convinced of their culpability after Westfield's Men are ambushed on the open road, Gill is threatened with drowning, and Giddy Mussett is assaulted in a stable. Somebody, it appears, is determined to bring the curtain down on Bracewell's band, once and for all.
The Nicholas Bracewell novels (of which The Vagabond Clown is the 13th) offer a fulfilling blend of hilarity and heart, romance and mystery. And Marston's flair for capturing both the upright and ribald elements of his Elizabethan setting is to be envied. If there's any disappointment in these pages, it's that a late scene involving a sea chase never achieves the swashbuckling excitement it promises. --J. Kingston Pierce
From Publishers Weekly
Edgar nominee Marston sends in the clowns in his 13th Nicholas Bracewell mystery (after 2002's The Bawdy Basket), once again providing an engaging look at the life of players in Shakespeare's day, with their aristocratic sponsors, resident playwrights, actor-managers and apprentice boys (who played female parts). When a riot and murder (both perhaps engineered by a jealous rival company) during a play performance deprive Westfield's Men of their London venue and cripple their clown, the company seems doomed, but ever-reliable, ever-resourceful Nicholas finds a substitute clown and helps to arrange a tour in Kent. The author vividly evokes the sights, sounds and smells of the taverns, inns, guildhalls and castles visited by the players, each of whom is a distinct personality. He shows how important it was for travelers to have skills as carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and fighters. The suspense builds, as attacks and delays by clever, ruthless adversaries imperil the company's livelihood and very existence. Excellent as the theater background is, the climax may come as a disappointment to some readers, especially those who appreciate how fervently Catholics held to their faith in Elizabethan times. FYI: Marston is the pseudonym of Keith Miles, who is also the author of The Owls of Gloucester and other titles in his Domesday Book mystery series.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
flair for the dramatic!
Once again, Westfield's Men, in which Nicholas is the stagemanager "and all around performer of miracles," find themselves in a lot of trouble! Owing to a devastating
brawl during one of their performances at the Queen's Head Inn, the troupe has to exit stage out-of-town, as so much damage has been done to the Inn and their stage proprieties,
there is nothing left for them but to head to Kent to recoup their losses. A major injury to the players is that Barnaby Gill, their erstwhile clown, was injured (a broken leg) in the
Alas, during said brawl a young man is found dead in the bleachers, a dagger sticking out of his back. Nick and his colleagues know this is murder but cannot imagine
how it relates to them.
But without a clown, the players know they cannot go on. Thus, when Nick recommends one Giddy Mussett, everyone stares askance at the suggestion. Giddy is known as a brawler, a drinker, and a lecher! He is also in debtors prison. After securing his release--and his promise to be on good behavior--Westfield's Men head for the country.
And while the show must go on, it goes with much ado about murder and more mayhem. Someone is out to destroy the players. And not far into their tour, Giddy is found
murdered. It is for Nick to figure all this out.
Marston, of course, takes us though the paces and by the final curtain, all's well that ends well. It goes without saying, particularly if you'ver ead any of this series, that
Westfield's Men save the day.
The author does an excellent job of staying in character--his historical mysteries also include The Domesday Book Series--and "The Vagabond Clown" is no exception. It's light,
fun reading, especially if one likes historical whodunits. (Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)
Regular reader's of the series will know that Lord Westfield's Men are probably the most accident prone troupe of actors that ever went on a stage and it is always the company's stage manager Nicholas Bracewell who has to untangle the web of intrigue that seem to follow them wherever they go. Once again they have been struck by an unexpected disaster. A melee caused by men in disguise is brought under control, but before the troupe can attempt to recover what they can of their damaged set, Nicholas discovers a body in the stands. A body with a knife sticking out of its back . . .
The author's love for the Elizabethan theatre comes shining through this series of books. Plus his knowledge of the period fills the pages with authenticity and the sights and sounds of the streets and inns of Elizabethan London.
The proprietor of the Queen's Head throws out the actors forcing them to take to the road. They hire a substitute player temporarily until the injured actor is ready to perform again. However, every place they stop they are welcomed by villains who try to sabotage their performances. At one stopover, a player is killed and Nicholas Bracewell, the book holder and the glue that keeps the company together, realizes somebody is out to destroy the company and he intends to stop them.
Readers are privy to what happens behind the scenes in a traveling troupe's entourage. Westfield's Men are a diverse lot of actors who are at times act petty and argumentative but are at the same time loyal to one another and the troupe as a whole. They love to act and it shows in the risks they take but it is Nicholas Bracewell, a hired hand, who manages to rise above the ensemble to make Westfield's Men one of the best acting troupes in Elizabethan England.