Halfway through a student production of The Merchant of Venice comes a drama certainly not penned by Shakespeare. The student Shylock, Richard Scott, is found dead backstage, the production's sharp prop knife plunged into his chest. A note found by the body quotes from Hamlet: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
Called to the open-air theater, Lewis and Hathaway are struck by the lack of grief among the cast, in particular Emma Golding, the fiercely ambitious director. Lewis's questioning of Denise Gregson, Golding's professor and landlady, reveals that the dead student had an expensive lifestyle and owed money to cast members and beyond.
Interviewing the cast and audience, Hathaway becomes suspicious of Simon Monkford, an out-of-town playgoer. Later, the officers learn Monkford may be in the middle of a con in Oxford.
The next day, after agreeing that the show must go on, Lewis meets former student turned freelance journalist Amanda Costello, who reveals that Scott was suspected of theft from dressing rooms and digs during the students' visit to the an Edinburgh theater festival. His alleged haul included a laptop from student playwright and now cynical Oxford dropout Phil Beaumont.
But death intrudes once more on the student thespians when someone else if found murdered with another Shakespearean line close by, this time Puck's "I will lead them up and down".
Even with a double murder to investigate, Hathaway is intent on unearthing more about "Simon Monkford, conman, the early years." The answers he finally gets are the ones he expected but never wanted; ones he knows will shake Lewis.