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Publisher: Constable (Constable & Robinson)
Release Date: 26 February 2004
ISBN: 1841196932
Format Reviewed: Hardback
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Genre: Historical Crime [1603 London & Oxford, England]
Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes:  

Mask of the Night
A Shakespearean Murder Mystery
By Philip Gooden

Fresh from his exploits in Somerset, Nick Revill and Shakespeare’s theater company have two things to worry about. Firstly, the Queen is dying and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the plague is back with a vengeance. Time to tour the provinces, and the company has just the job lined up; they are going to stage Romeo and Juliet at the house of Shakespeare’s boyhood friend Dr. Hugh Fern. But the plague follows them, and soon people are dying—but not all of them of plague. When Dr. Fern is himself murdered it is time for Nick to solve the crime and escape death himself—if he can.

I have remarked before that if anybody is going to write a whodunit set during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, it will be about the theater. This notwithstanding, I do enjoy these Nick Revill novels and this is a perennially enthralling milieu to portray. Nick himself continues to narrate the tale and this gives immediacy to the account, which is descriptive and in this particular novel also sobering. As well as the plot itself (which is enjoyable enough) the main theme of the tale is the plague and how it affected people. Nick describes the sight of black robed, bird-headed figures; crosses daubed on doors; and terrified faces looking out of houses they are not allowed to leave until they are carried out dead. This is told with a mixture of fearful awe and a feeling that life must go on, mixed in with descriptions of theatrical performances and some welcome humor. This time we do get to know a couple of the other players better, and Shakespeare remains tantalizingly elusive, as is fitting. Once again Gooden has produced an easy read (not to be confused with a cozy one; the plague sees to that) with a vigorous and original plot, teasing references to things that might have inspired scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, and a fine feel for the period.