Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book Review: Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland


Bram Stoker, business manager for London’s Lyceum Theatre, always expects the supernatural to be lurking around the corner. But investigating the murder of a cast member might be enough to make even him lose his head…

1881. When the star and owner of the Lyceum, Mr. Henry Irving, is poisoned on Hamlet’s opening night, it’s up to stage manager Harry Rivers to make sure the show goes on. Fortunately for Harry, Mr. Irving is able to pull through and walk the boards as planned. But when his understudy is killed the very next day, Harry’s boss, Bram Stoker, becomes convinced that foul play is afoot.

Mr. Irving has a list of enemies longer than a Shakespearean soliloquy, any of whom would have been happy for the curtain never to rise. It soon becomes clear that nefarious, possibly magical, methods are being employed to shut the play down. With more cast and crew members falling victim to the increasingly dangerous accidents on set, it’s up to Harry and Stoker to figure out which of Irving’s critics has a voodoo vendetta…

Berkley Trade | January 7, 2014 | 304 pages | ISBN: 0425268012

My Review

Set in the heart of London in 1881, Cursed in the Act is the first novel in Raymond Buckland’s Bram Stoker mystery series. The book opens at the famed Lyceum Theatre on the opening night of a new production of Hamlet. This event is marred by the non-fatal poisoning of the play’s star, famed actor Henry Irving. Unwell and not his usual commanding self, Irving nevertheless takes the stage. The tragic death of Irving’s understudy the following day, however, leaves the Lyceum’s business manager, Bram Stoker, suspecting foul play. These events lead Stoker immediately to assign his stage manager, Harry Rivers, to investigate further.

Told from Harry Rivers’ perspective, Cursed in the Act is fast-moving and intriguing. Each of the principal characters is engaging, and provides a unique, behind-the-scenes perspective on late 19th-century theatre life. Buckland does a good job of bringing Bram Stoker to life and effectively conveys some of his more eccentric beliefs, such as those in the occult. The story’s mystery is compelling, taking the reader to various London theatres, and offers up a diverse group of characters, many of whom have ample motive for wanting to harm the cast and crew of the Lyceum. The only aspect of this novel that didn’t work for me was the inclusion of the practice of voodoo. Although the component of the narrative concerning voodoo was interesting in and of itself, it seemed out of place alongside the rest of the storyline.

Overall, Cursed in the Act is an enjoyable novel, and one that fans of cozy mysteries should find appealing. I look forward to reading the next installment of Harry Rivers’ and Bram Stoker’s adventures.

Note: This review was originally published in the February 2014 edition (Issue 67) of the Historical Novels Review.  I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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