Two killers imperil the royal court in Harper’s fifth Queen Elizabeth I mystery (The Queen’s Cure, p. 144, etc.). The historical one is the Black Plague, cutting a swath through London, threatening the palace, and lending verisimilitude and tension to the tale of the human killer, also historically based. After a masque in which Elizabeth takes part, she arranges a late-night tryst with her beloved Robin Dudley, recently returned to court after a long absence. As she waits in the eponymous maze in her costume for the masque, an unknown figure attempts to strangle her with a pair of the special stockings used by the masquers. When the would-be murderer abruptly stops the assault and flees, speculation rises that Elizabeth was mistaken for the true target. The use of the stockings narrows the field of likely suspects (and upcoming victims) to the other nine young members of the court who participated in the masque. Suspicion falls most heavily on Lady Bettina, a newish member of the court, because she’s been acting secretive—and because she’s the one who found the prone queen. For her part, Elizabeth hopes the guilty party is foppish Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, who, readers may remember, will go on to marry Elizabeth’s rival, Mary of Scotland. Both the plague and the maze claim more victims before Elizabeth lays a successful trap for the killer. The fitting finale shows the Queen matching both wits and stamina with her nemesis.
The conventional whodunit would have benefited from sharper characters, but Harper as usual supplies brisk, energetic writing and terrific historical color.