Being Master of a leper hospital probably isn’t the most popular career choice, but that is what faces Ralph of Houndeslow as he comes to Crediton. Guardian of a group of seriously ill individuals who are shunned from society – indeed, who have very few legal rights – it’s not something that I could do.
Meanwhile, in the town itself, the merchant Godfrey of London is found murdered and his daughter Cecily has been attacked. People seem keen to point the finger at John of Irlaunde – a womaniser with a dubious reputation – but while Sir Baldwin Furnshill knows John is a reprobate, he doesn’t strike him as a murderer. Soon the townsfolk are looking for someone else to blame as well – and someone is whispering evil claims about those evil lepers…
The sixth book in the Furnshill-Puttock series, which so far has ranged from very good to excellent. Is this a continuation of that trend?
With each book, Michael Jecks has picked on an aspect of medieval life and woven a story around it without making it seem like a history lesson. Here the subject is the treatment of lepers (obviously), shut away in an encampment, made to wear heavy clothes and gloves at all times, unable to even touch non-lepers. We see life through two characters, one resigned to his life and one newly afflicted. Needless to say, there isn’t going to be a happy ending for some of the characters in this tale.
And it’s a great tale as well. A cracking twisting, turning mystery, Jecks juggles a large cast without ever losing the pace of the story or causing the reader to have to check which character is which. The plot goes all over the place while still remaining tightly focussed and there are some genuine surprises, despite there being enough clues to spot the shape of what is happening – one thing in particular is flagged up in plain sight a few times and I missed the importance. Interestingly, so does Baldwin (the more sleuthy of our two heroes), and it falls to Simon to point out what, in hindsight, is bleedin’ obvious.
And our heroes get some more development, in particular with Baldwin’s courting of the Lady Jeanne, with some genuinely funny moments concerning her deeply unpleasant maid Emma. I found myself with a silly grin on my face when reading some of these sections, in particular with regard to the machinations of Baldwin’s servants to put her out of the way. And hooray for Chops! I’ll leave you to read the book to see what I mean by that.
And you really should read this book – it’s an absolutely top notch historical mystery in a top notch series and it is, of course, Highly Recommended. Expect more reviews from this series in the months to come as I may have “accidently” ordered the entire series to fill my shelves…