Once more into the breach for stage manager Nicholas Bracewell, riding again to the rescue of Lord Westfield’s Men, the Elizabethan theater troupe he heads, which is threatened with oblivion. The initial threats are twofold. Frank Quilter, an actor new to the company, has revealed that his father is to be publicly hanged for murder. Despite Frank’s belief in Gerard Quilter’s innocence, which Nicholas shares, members of the troupe want him dismissed. Then there’s playwright Edmund Hoode, now so infatuated with wealthy, beautiful Avice Radley that he wants to leave the company to live the life of a country squire with her. Granted a leave of absence, Frank, with Nicholas at his side, begins his quest to prove his father’s innocence. They soon uncover the source of the lethal accusations: big-time moneylender Sir Eliard Slaney and his lying confederates. The case against Sir Eliard is buoyed by the appearance of Moll Comfrey, a seller of goods at a local fair who spent the crucial day in the company of Gerard Quilter. Although Nicholas escapes an assassin’s knife, the players will have to survive Sir Eliard’s more sophisticated but equally baleful attack, by way of Lord Westfield’s debts, before he’s brought to justice and the company restored to equilibrium.
One of the best outings in this series (The Devil’s Apprentice, 2001, etc.): full of sharp character studies and suspense sustained from start to finish.