The author's second venture into the theatrical world of Elizabethan London, and a new play for Lord Westfield's Men (The Queen's Head, p. 662), a troupe directed and stage-managed by stalwart Nicholas Bracewell and headed by gifted actor Lawrence Firethorn. Here, The Merry Devils, written by sin- and guilt-obsessed Ralph Willougby and actor-play wright Edmund Hoode, is plagued from the start by a series of mishaps that nourish the superstitious tenor of the times--as well as excite the wrath of local Puritans, headed by fanatic Isaac Pollard. To Bracewell, those mishaps seem designed to bring disgrace to the company, and in time he begins to see a connection to the group's patron, Lord Westfield, and his arrogant nephew Francis Jordan, newly installed as owner of the Parkbrook estate after the disappearance of older brother David. Following a carefully calculated attack (which lands him temporarily in the unspeakable jail called The Counter), Bracewell picks up a clue that leads him to the surprising source of his troubles; but it's a command performance of the play at Parkbrook that gets to the bottom of the puzzle and produces a final tragedy--along with portents of a happy future. A richly detailed evocation of time and place, enhanced by vividly diverse characters and a plot that remains suspenseful to the last page. Add a plus for theatrical-history buffs.