Mystery is bred of history and collides with literature in this new novel featuring Nick Revill, a fledgling detective and an aspiring young actor attached, like William Shakespeare, to the theatrical company known as the Chamberlain's Men. The political atmosphere in the London of 1601 is fraught with conspiracy and treason, as the aging, childless Queen Elizabeth nears the end of her long reign -- with no direct heir to the British crown. While the Queen's former favorite, the Earl of Essex, plots to protect her throne, his enemies, believing he plans to seize the royal office for himself, hatch counterplots. Intrigue is rife, rebellion is afoot. The Chamberlain's Men, meanwhile, at the request of one of Essex's supporters, are staging William Shakespeare's Richard II, which recounts a monarch's murder, and Nick Revill finds himself not only performing in a play but also acting as a spy for the government. When some of his closest companions in the cast begin dying in bizarre and unfortunate ways -- by drowning in a witch's cauldron, for instance -- Nick realizes it will soon be curtains for himself unless he can finger the culprit in the company and figure out who is the mastermind behind the Essex rebellion.