York, 1363. A mysterious pilgrim dies after receiving some medicine from local apothecary Nicholas Wilton. When a nobleman receives the same mediceine and suffers the same fate, Owen Archer, ex-Captain of the, yes, Archers, is dispatched undercover to the apothecary to discover the truth about the deaths – is the stroke suffered by Wilton on the night of the first death as straightforward as it seems? Did Wilton deliberately poison the pilgrim or is there something deeper going on? And can Archer trust Wilton’s young wife Lucie?
Candace Robb (who also writes under the pen name Emma Campion) has, to date, written ten books in this series and some other historical mysteries as well. So, do I have another author to add to the list of unfinished bibliographies?
I should warn you, I may have read the wrong book here. The title is The Apothercary Rose, the author is as advertised and the content fits the blurb. But looking at the entry on Amazon, it is rated, on average, over 4/5, with no-one rating it less than 3/5. Well, there wasn’t any such reviews until I wrote a short one.
There have been some books that I’ve reviewed that I disliked, for various reasons. The Hundredth Man by Jack Kerley, The Railway Detective by Edward Marston, A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory, all of which have spawned a lengthy series but simply weren’t my taste. Well, here’s another to attach to that list – and quite firmly at the bottom of the list.
So what’s the problem? Well, many and varied, I’m afraid. Where to start?
The problem with writing this review is that to point out the main problem is probably a spoiler. And this is supposed to be a spoiler-free review site. But I’m going to press on – you have been warned.
There is no mystery here. At all. Apart from an unknown motive, everything happens exactly as described and there is never any hint in the narrative that anything other than that occurred. No-one thinks about other ways that the medicine could have been poisoned and we know from the opening section that the one other character who is vaguely considered to have been involved (Lucie) didn’t do it. In fact it readily becomes apparent where Lucie’s story is going from the moment she meets Archer.
There is a chink of light when another character is murdered – the killer is recognised by the victim due to their distinctive robes but his head is covered. I perked up a bit, thinking there was something clever going on… and the next scene involves the killer – the person who we were supposed to think it was – chastising himself for killing the victim.
So, enough about the plot. The Railway Detective suffered from the same problems but at least it was an exciting story – it was well-written but just not a mystery. This one… well, it took me an age to read because I simply wasn’t looking forward to struggling through more of it. The medieval York setting, for example, is wasted – the author makes a point in the notes at the end that she deliberately didn’t describe the general unpleasantness of medieval peasant life because the medieval peasant would accept it as the norm. Fair enough – possibly – but I’m not a medieval peasant and I’d quite like some descriptions that bring fourteenth century York to life, not send me to sleep.
Enough. I’ve said enough on this book. I always want to put mention the positives as well, but I honestly cannot think of any. Tedious and not a mystery. Anyone who would like to defend it, please chip in with the comments below, as I am genuniely curious as to why this seems so popular on Amazon. But in my opinion, if you want a decent historical mystery, check out Paul Doherty or my Other Historical Mysteries tab. Avoid this like the plague, though.