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by J. S. Borthwick
St Martin's Minotaur, February 2007
368 pages
ISBN: 0312366558

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sarah Deane's loyalty is being tested. She is a close friend of Vera Pruczak, director of the School of Drama at Bowmouth College, but as a low person on the totem pole in the English Department, whose chairman is in a turf war with Vera, it behooves her to keep free of the conflict.

She learns that Vera's production of Romeo and Juliet is actually a gender-bending production, Romiette and Julio, complete with a happy ending and a joyous dance by the entire cast, a change that will serve as ammunition for Danton Davis McGraw, retired admiral and now chairman of the English department, a man who aspires to make the drama school a subsidiary of the English department.

Sarah's unintended involvement in the mayhem begins when she discovers the bruised body of Todd Mancuso, a very talented young actor who was to play Mercutio and Friar Laurence, stuffed in the utility closet at a supermarket. This is not the first attack on Mancuso. His childish antics provoked two of the young actresses to hit him with a prop lantern and an epee.

Mercutio, Romeo's friend, seems to be a lightning rod for trouble. McGraw, who served as choreographer for the fight scenes and as fencing coach, secretly steps into the role of Mercutio for the crucial scene. He is cut in the neck with an epee.

When Sarah, who had left her purse with her wallet in the Green Room, persuades a policewoman to let her retrieve it, she finds yet another body related to Mercutio, this time the widely despised student actor who was to be understudy.

Sarah's attempts to identify fencers and non-fencers leads her to botched confessions and "star crossed" lovers trying to cover for one another.

A major premise of the plot just doesn't work. I spent much of my mis-spent youth, mis-spending it in theatre. There was never a scene involving a sword fight that didn't have protection on the tips of the weapons. Vera's specious argument that real weapons would lead to verisimilitude doesn't wash. No one beyond row two or three could possibly notice whether or not the weapons were real. Even a wacky person such as Vera should be able to foresee the possible consequences of her decision.

A final note: The book is at least 40 pages too long.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, April 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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