There’s no escaping sudden death no matter which end of the social spectrum you occupy in 1771 London. On their second (!) visit to a decapitated head found floating in the Thames, Jeremy Proctor’s friend Jimmie Bunkins thinks he recognizes it as that of George Bradbury, a receiver of stolen goods with ties to the lowest lowlifes London can offer. By this time, Jeremy, together with his master, blind Bow Street magistrate Sir John Fielding, has already been present for an even more unnerving spectacle when the foolish old Earl of Laningham, patron of the Academy of Ancient Music, interrupts a Handel concert first by waving his arms and beating time to the music, then by falling down dead. Poison, suspects sharp-eared Sir John (Person or Persons Unknown, 1997, etc.). But when he voices his suspicions to Lady Laningham, she delays acting until she’s dead too, and even then, an incompetent new coroner refuses to disturb the internal organs of a couple so noble for an unseemly autopsy. Are the two cases connected? They are not; but as separate courses, alternately sampled, they still provide plenty of excitement for young Jeremy—who’ll spend much of his time quarreling with a girl who insists against all the evidence that her father couldn’t have been mixed up in the beheading—and plenty of sidelights, both earthy and urbane, on the 18th-century milieu. As for the two mysteries—one rather unoriginal, the other left hanging in a surprisingly anticlimactic way—they’re no more than the key to Alexander’s magical world.