Devon, 1318ish. In the town of Crediton (approx ten miles inland from Exeter according to Google Maps – it’s a real place), an important guest is arriving, no less than the Bishop of Exeter himself! But a band of mercenaries has arrived as well and has taken over the local alehouse. Simon Puttock and Baldwin Furnshill are attending to welcome the Bishop but are soon called to their usual duties as a vast quantity of silver is stolen from the captain of the band. A suspect is soon arrested, but how could he carry off so much silver by himself? And where is it?
The theft quickly becomes second fiddle to the murder of a serving girl from the tavern, found locked inside a chest. As more deaths follow, it would seem that a brutal killer is on the rampage. But is there a method to the killer’s madness?
Well, yes, of course there is. Random nut-job books don’t get reviewed here, and this is definitely not one of those.
In the last instalment of this series – OK, the third of thirty-two – well, sort of fourth of thirty two due to the most recent, Templar’s Acre, being a prequel – hang on, where was I? Oh yes, in the book preceding this one, A Moorland Hanging, concentrated on the tin-mining community in Devon as the background to a great story, and in this one, Michael Jecks has chosen the life of a band of mercenaries to hang his tale around. It’s not the life I would have chosen if I’d been around in the fourteenth century (and if I had a say in the matter) as not only is there plenty of fighting against ones (mostly French) enemies, but there’s plenty of infighting as well. The leader is the strongest soldier of the band – and much like a pack of wolves, there are plenty of challenges for that role.
There’s a nice bit of progression in the lives of Simon Puttock, the bailiff of Lydford, and Baldwin Furnshill, the Keeper of the King’s Peace. Mostly Simon in this book, as he has recently lost his young son and heir to illness, and part of his story is about his, and his wife’s, grief. And a massive thumbs-up to the author for including a surprise even in that part of the story. I was convinced in an eye-rolling, “here we go”, kind of way, that I could see something coming a mile off. Well, I’m an idiot, because I’m pretty sure that’s what Michael wanted me to think and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Oh, it’s a murder mystery, isn’t it? Almost forgot to talk about that. Very clever, and in one way in particular that I can’t go into without giving a massive hint to the reader. Let me just say that almost everything in the plot is relevant to the overall story and leave it at that. The reader finds themselves coming to the conclusion as to the identity of the murderer just before our heroes, which is how I like it, and even then, there’s a rug to be pulled out from under the reader as they’re congratulating themselves.
This is a triumph from the author – a convincing snapshot of everyday life in the early fourteenth century, covering not just the mercenaries, but local tradespeople as well, developments in the lives of our two main characters (while Simon is the focus, there’s a hint of something with Baldwin as well – maybe I imagined it), and a cracking multi-layered mystery. With this book, Michael Jecks has moved from my “will read again soon” list to my “must read again as soon as possible list”. And I’ve got twenty seven books to go!
The best so far in an already strong series, this is, rather obviously, Highly Recommended.
It’s available, with a new (but less impressive than the original) cover, from all good bookshops – you can order it as it probably won’t be on the shelves. It’s available as an ebook as well.