Bram Stoker’s personal assistant helps solve two ritualistic murders and races to prevent a third in this Victorian tale combining real-life actors and fictional characters.
When Harry Rivers, the 22-year-old stage manager of London’s Lyceum Theatre, learns that the young actress Nell Burton is missing, he first tells Nell’s beau not to worry. But a visit to the owner of Nell’s boardinghouse and an ominous reading of another bit player’s tarot cards are anything but reassuring. Although Harry is skeptical about the cards, his boss, theater manager Abraham Stoker, takes them more seriously, since the author of Dracula has a keen interest in any matters beyond the everyday. Inspector Samuel Charles Bellamy of Scotland Yard, not noted for his imagination or intellectual prowess, dismisses Nell’s disappearance as no cause for alarm until Harry and Stoker find strange chalk drawings, a bloodstain and Nell’s body in an old riverside warehouse. At first, Henry Irving, the Lyceum’s lead actor, is a suspect because one of his knives was apparently the murder weapon. But Harry’s extensive travel and research, with some selective support from the dignified and erudite Stoker, extends the investigation to an earlier murder, a book of magic, a rival theater, a secret organization called the Hellfire Club—and a threat to someone very close to Harry.
Readers hoping for a glimpse behind the scenes of the Lyceum won’t get much in Buckland’s (Cursed in the Act, 2014) second Bram Stoker adventure. Nor will they see much of Stoker. The spotlight is deservedly on Harry, who does all the legwork and spends more time on the road than backstage.