Mystery author # 4: Edward Marston
Title: The Roaring Boy
Year of publication: 1995
Number in series: 7
Availability: In print
Setting and time: England: A London suburb, Elizabethan times
Type of mystery: Murder (whydunit*), historical
Type of investigator: Amateur sleuth (crime magnet)
Some themes: Murder, acting, playwriting, miscarriage of justice, love, misuse of power
I actually read this right after the Hannah March book, but I wanted to review a different type of mystery inbetween so that I would not be clumping together three English historical sleuths.
Summary (slight SPOILERS):
A stranger approaches theatrical book-keeper Nicholas Bracewell with a draft of a play he wants the group’s playwright to fine-tune and the playgroup to stage. The play is about a miscarriage of justice: an unfaithful wife and her lover have been wrongly executed for the murder of the woman’s husband. His sister refuses to marry her fiancé until the real murderer, a nobleman, has been exposed. We then meet the supposed murderer (hereafter known as the henchman) and his protector, the real villain. They are not prepared to allow the henchman to be exposed (the villain’s involvement is not known to anyone but the henchman and readers at this point), and begin a campaign to intimidate the playgroup into not performing the play and the young couple to withdraw it. When an important witness who can prove the henchman’s involvement in the murders is murdered himself, and then another man, Bracewell realises that there must be something more behind all this than a mere personal dislike by the henchman of the first victim (who defended his sister’s honour against his advances), and he and his actor friends begin an investigation that leads them to the true villain.
Review (with slight SPOILERS):
When I saw that this book had been nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award, I thought it would prove to be good. In some ways it lived up to my expectations, and in some it did not. The historical detail and supporting characters are beautifully drawn, and the running tooth-ache joke makes for good comic relief of what, at times, is a rather grim tale.
Bracewell is a bit too stereotypical a John McClane type for my taste: big, brawny and brainy all at the same time. Although he is the leading character, he is not the only sleuth in the story – his actor friends take an active part in the investigation, and in fact, it is information uncovered by one of them that blows the case open. The plot is believable, twisted enough to keep one guessing (in my case until I found out what the real villain did for a living), and ties up nicely, although an unnecessary and ugly twist is used to take the girl away from Bracewell (don’t worry, she doesn’t die) when a simple difference in social status would have done it just as well.
Rating: 3+ stars.
*whydunit = why was the crime committed? Derived from whodunit.