Spring, 1321, and Roger, Squire of Throwleigh has a good life. With his own estates, a loving wife and a young son, things are going well. Until he drops dead of a heart attack, leaving five year old Herbert as his heir. When Sir Baldwin Furnshill, preparing for his wedding, visits to pay his respects, he feels uneasy – Herbert’s mother seems to want nothing to do with him and there are a number of new visitors to the Throwleigh estate… and a few days later, Herbert lies dead.
Although it seems that he was run over by a cart, Baldwin and Bailiff Simon Puttock suspect that there was a deliberate hand in Herbert’s death. For a five year old boy, there seem to be an unnatural number of people who had a motive for his death – but with everybody hiding something, can Baldwin and Simon possibly get to the truth?
Yes, it’s time for the monthly Michael Jecks review! Hey, there are a lot of these – this is book 7 out of 31 – and even at one a month, it’ll be an age before I catch up with the latest one. Ever since reading the first book, The Last Templar, I’ve been captivated by the series and I fully expect in the months to come, you’ll be seeing reviews of them at even more regular intervals.
The reason is, very simply, that these are outstanding reads. Both insights into history and remarkably constructed mysteries.
Whereas Paul Doherty (who also gets a fair amount of my time) tends to set his mysteries in major locations and/or around major historical events, Michael has a stunning talent for bringing alive part of what must have been every day routine in the past. There’s less of a focus here – previous books could have been tagged with a single aspect of medieval life such as tin-mining, mercenaries, leprosy – this time, it’s more of days in the life of an estate with a wide ranging set of characters, although the laws of inheritance do get a look in. Each of those characters is given time to develop and despite giving us insights into what makes the characters tick, Michael does an excellent job of hiding the murderer from us.
And yet there are clues – one of which I spotted! – but (and I’ve probably used this analogy before) it’s like a jigsaw puzzle where you’ve lost the lid with the picture. Slowly as the puzzle is solved, the picture begins to take shape, changing your idea of what the picture is supposed to be as you place more and more pieces. And you will still be stunned by what’s on that last piece – and I mean it, the last page of this one is a real kick to the stomach. Kate Ellis has done this sort of trick a couple of times to wonderful effect and it works just as well here. It caused me to go back and check something earlier in the book, and all I will say is, Michael, you are one sneaky so-and-so.
But… there was a bonus clue in the blurb, unfortunately – so don’t read it before reading the book. Maybe I was reading between the lines, but the blurb, coupled with the clue that I spotted, pointed at the killer for me from a relatively early point in the book. But it was still a cracking read, the last page still caught me out, and it’s possible that I read too much into it. Oh, and after his starring role in the last book, there wasn’t nearly enough of Chops, Baldwin’s mastiff! Fingers crossed for a quick return to the series.
So, I’m afraid it’s the usual message – with the series being re-released with some shiny new covers, there is no excuse not to read these books. Great writing and a great mystery – what more could you ask for? Highly Recommended – and here’s Michael trying to persuade you to give this one a go…