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by Edward Marston
St. Martin's Minotaur, August 2003
292 pages
ISBN: 0312307896

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE VAGABOND CLOWN is the 13th book in the Nicholas Bracewell series. Life for Lord Westfield’s Men has been good. They have a reputation for being a talented group of actors as well as the support of their patron. Then things go terribly wrong. During a performance of their newest play, a fight breaks out. During the scuffle, Barnaby Gill, the troupe’s clown breaks his leg. After the spectators leave the theater and the clean up begins, Bracewell finds a body in the stands. The body remains a mystery simply because even once it has a name (Fortunatus Hope) nothing is known about him.

The excessive damage to the theater causes the landlord to throw Lord Westfield’s Men out of the theater. They decide to replace Gill, until his leg heals, and begin their tour of the Kent countryside early. They hire Gideon Mussett as the replacement clown, Gill’s bitter enemy. Unfortunately for the troupe, he has a history of being a troublemaker and has no plans to reform. As they begin their journey, attacks upon Mussett and the rest of the troupe begin. Bracewell must find the mastermind behind these attacks and Hope’s murder before he loses one of his prized actors.

During this period, clowns were the masters of physical humor. They were vital to both comedies and dramas alike. In dramas, they were to allow a moment of freedom from the depression that type of play produced. See for example the porter in Macbeth; he allows the tension to disperse before the drama continues. Marston takes the role of the clown and uses it in daily interactions. Mussett is always involved in bits of physical humor, which although funny is also not realistic in normal life. Gill on the other hand, the best of the clowns, is also a sarcastic bitter person. This type of character tends to be considered the funniest by most modern readers. By presenting two different types of humor, Marston has made sure there is something for everyone.

Historical mysteries tend to fall into two categories; those that are boring due to all of the detail and explanation about a different time period and those that leave a little more to the imagination and focus more on moving forward. THE VAGABOND CLOWN falls into the second category. Although the setting is obviously in the past, there are not a lot of references to events most non-historians are unfamiliar with, nor are there numerous tangents regarding events completely unconnected with the plot. The characters do use phrases that seem archaic to a modern reader; however, they do not speak using silted words from the past. Marston has created a mystery series that manage to seem both timeless and historical simultaneously. This is an amazing feat for any writer and Marston should be proud of this accomplishment.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, August 2003

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