A Mask of Shadows
Two of my favorite things – Edinburgh and Shakespeare – form the backdrop for this historical mystery, the fourth in a justly celebrated series. The snobbish but principled Inspector Ian Frey and his gruff, eccentric partner, “Nine-Nails” McGray, return to investigate a series of eerie threats made against the famous production of Macbeth being staged in the Scottish capital by Henry Irving and Ellen Terry in 1888. The grime and splendor of Victorian Edinburgh is on display, along with entertaining tidbits about theater history and lore about the curse of the “Scottish Play.” The two detectives are fascinating foils for one another and highlight the extreme class differences of the time through their contentious but affectionate relationship.
The dialogue (especially McGray’s) is colorfully anachronistic but witty, and de Muriel delights in bringing in cameo appearances from almost every artistic celebrity of the time, from Oscar Wilde to Bram Stoker to John Singer Sargent (whose famous portrait of Terry wearing Lady Macbeth’s gorgeous beetle-wing-encrusted gown figures prominently in the narrative). The formulaic mystery plot is almost an afterthought to a delightful exercise in gothic atmosphere and comedy of manners, with hints of a tragic past for Nine-Nails to add emotional weight to the events. Readers who have not read the previous books will find no disadvantage; it’s a satisfying stand-alone adventure for any historical novel fan, even those not obsessed with Scotland and “that play.”