Nick Revill (Alms for Oblivion, 2003, etc.), watching as the plague ravages London, discovers that the fear and ignorance surrounding King Pest may be as deadly as the disease itself.
The mounting death toll forces the Chamberlain’s Men, the only acting company in London to boast William Shakespeare as sharer and playwright, to tour the provinces. The first stop is Oxford, where they plan a private performance of Romeo and Juliet. Dr. Hugh Fern, a boyhood friend of Shakespeare’s, has arranged a performance for two families under his care—the Sadlers and the Constants, families with a long history of conflict, now united by the impending marriage of William Sadler and Sara Constant. When Nick befriends the bride’s cousin Susan, she consults him about Sarah’s health. Could someone be poisoning the frail and inoffensive bride? In any case, the show must go on. So Dr. Fern treads the boards himself as Friar Lawrence for a public performance of the tragedy. The good doctor acquits himself respectably as the good friar until intermission, when he’s found stabbed to death in a locked room backstage. Shakespeare steps into the role for the Friar’s next cue, but Nick is the one who must sort out the mysteries offstage.
Lots of interesting detail about playing and plague, but the lunatic serial killer subplot doesn’t quite mesh with the more rational history.