Another visit (the tenth, following The Fair Maid of Bohemia, 1997) to Elizabethan England and a new crisis for the theater company Lord Westfield’s Men, managed by wily Nicholas Bracewell and starring the fiery Lawrence Firethorn. The troupe performs on the grounds of the Queen’s Head Tavern, owned by choleric Alexander Marwood and his iron-willed wife, Sybil. The pair’s daughter, Rose, has just informed them she’s pregnant and refuses to name the father. Marwood, about to sign a new lease with the company but certain his daughter’s seducer is one of them, now wants them off the premises forever. Plus, a prudish Privy Council has decided to reduce the number of playhouses in the area. Nicholas is sure a theater of his own would give the troupe an advantage. Surprisingly, financial backing for the venture is offered, in secret, by the beautiful, wanton Countess of Dartford, infatuated with the company’s young, new playwright, Sylvester Pryde. Construction begins on a riverside site, but only days into the job Sylvester is found under a pile of timber—dead. Nicholas barely avoids a similar fate as he struggles to determine why his company is falling apart. Mildly entertaining but lacking some of the drive and power of others in this series. A fun, easygoing summer’s day read.