Death stalks a group of actors at midsummer

It’s 1601 and a group of actors, usually resident at the Globe Theatre with their playwright William Shakespeare, are invited to perform at a wedding celebration in rural Wiltshire. Among them is Nick Revill who is the main character in this historical crime series by Philip Godden. Nick isn’t a great actor and nor does he hold a prominent position in the troupe but he is observant and inquisitive and soon becomes involved when there is an unexpected death. This book, The Pale Companion, follows Nick as he uncovers secrets and finds out who the dead man really was and his connection to the noble family.

This is the only book I have read in this series but I didn’t feel that I had lost out by starting with the third book as it was reasonably self-contained. The story isn’t immensely complicated and most of the clues to the solution are in the text but I didn’t anticipate all of the revelations that come at the end and I felt that this was a satisfying mystery.

The wedding is timed for midsummer and the play which the troupe is performing is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The crime story echoes the play in places and has some of the same themes and events. If you know the play then this adds an extra layer to the story but I don’t think that it’s a necessity. Thankfully, magic is restricted to the play only and not the real life events although the author does include some happenings related to superstition.

Nick is young and enthusiastic and we can see that he’s not yet as cynical as the older members of the company. His involvement in everything that happens is a little forced in places but he makes an excellent narrator and his feelings and suppositions about what is happening make the story feel more real. There are lots of characters, both actors and locals, and I thought that the author did a good job in helping me to distinguish between them.

The historical background seems well done. It is useful to have a troupe of actors as your main characters because so many of the norms of society don’t apply to them and they are always on the outside looking inward. I thought that the historical detail didn’t ever get in the way of the story but it all felt accurate and believable – this is not always the case in historical mystery stories.

This is a satisfying and well written novel. I didn’t enjoy it so much that I would immediately go out and buy the others in the series but if I see them around I would happily read them. If you are looking for undemanding historical crime fiction then I think that this is a series that you should try.

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