Disaster strikes Lord Westfield’s Men, the Renaissance acting troupe for which Nicholas Bracewell (The Bawdy Basket, 2002, etc.) acts as the bookholder, or behind-the-scenes manager.
During a smash performance of A Trick to Catch a Chaste Maid at their home stage in the yard of the Queen’s Head Inn, two groundlings break comic actor Barnaby Gill’s leg and incite the rest of the audience to riot. The innkeeper blames Westfield’s Men and throws them out. When Bracewell finds aristocratic young Fortunatus Hope stabbed to death in the audience, he begins to wonder whether the deadly disruption was something more than the unfortunate result of the man’s ill-omened name. Hoping that the cooling-off period will bring their landlord around, he rallies the dispirited company to tour Kent and hires Gideon Mussett as comic temp to take Gill’s place. Mussett has as much talent as Gill, but also a weakness for drinking, wenching, and brawling. On the road, Bracewell must contend with Mussett’s unreliability and a series of cruel tricks played on Gill, who insists on being carted along, and worse, on the rest of Westfield’s Men. Who could have a deadly grudge against a couple of comedians, especially since Adam Sandler hasn’t even been born yet?
That paragon Bracewell proves himself as clever and courteous as a Renaissance Boy Scout, and about as interesting, although other personalities and details of theatrical history are entertaining enough.