Another trip to medieval England – this time, we’re off to Kent, 1189, just as Richard the (future) Lionheart has become King of England. Richard, due to concern about his popularity, has the astoundingly ill-advised scheme to appease the population by ordering the release of every prisoner in the country. When a nun is found apparently raped and murdered near Hawkenlye Abbey, Richard sends Josse D’Acquin to investigate – and to try and remove any blame from Richard. Along with the Abbess Helewise, he investigates, but it takes a second death before the truth becomes apparent.
Michael Jecks, author of The Tolls of Death, popped over to comment on my review of The Sanctuary Seeker, mentioning the challenge of dropping partway into a series of books, so I’m doing my best to read series in order. This is the first of (currently) thirteen books featuring D’Acquin and Helewise (not the easiest crime-fighting duo to pronounce), known, at least on the cover, as The Hawkenlye Mysteries. To be honest, I’d never heard of them, or Alys Clare, but came upon this one while trolling the local library.
So, a lucky find or not?
The opening book of a series has to get the introductions out of the way, and sometimes that can make the book suffer, leaving less room for a decent plot – which, as you may know, is the primary thing that I look for. Alys Clare does a pretty good job of making a decent introduction without it going on for too long – focussing on Josse first of all, and then, to a slightly lesser extent on the Abbess. It’s a slightly odd balance – most of the chapters are from one or the others point of view, and I’d have preferred a little more from the Abbess, but as she is confined, practically, to the abbey and Josse is free to visit suspects away from the abbey, it does make logical sense.
It’s a nice little mystery, to be fair. Nothing particularly complicated, but there’s a nice bit of misdirection. The purists might moan a little that some critical characters take an age to actually show up – but it doesn’t feel like it’s treading water at any point. The characters are well-written, especially some of the supporting characters. The plot is work-outable, for the most part, but there are still some surprises along the way. There’s a real intent to do something clever with the plot and Clare nearly pulls it off. The ultimate culprit is signposted a little early for my liking, and a crucial plot item probably needed a bit more indication before its importance is revealed, but I did like very much that despite getting the larger share of the action, Josse gets it wrong and the Abbess gets it right.
So, an enjoyable book all round. Definitely going to look out for the next one in the series.