caMarch 1324, and the Despensers, Edward II’s most loyal and ruthless followers, are engaged in a land-grab in Devon. Those who stand against the Despensers, or those loyal to them, are few and far between, and are rapidly reducing in number. Simon Puttock’s servant Hugh thought the village of Iddesleigh was the perfect place to settle down with his wife Constance and her son. But he didn’t realise that their idyll would come to be caught in the crossfire between Sir Geoffrey Servington, loyal to the Despensers and Sir Odo de Bordeaux, loyal to Lord de Courtenay.
When Simon and Sir Baldwin Furnshill arrive to investigate the attack which has left Hugh and his family dead, they expected it to simply be the work of bandits. But there are many more mysterious deaths in the area – some of which hint at a much darker purpose behind things. England is teetering on the edge of civil war – and it looks like Iddesleigh might make a head-start…
Book Twenty of this series – the Knights Templar mysteries, although, as I’ve said before, there’s only one ex-Templar here. Maybe it should be Knight’s Templar mysteries if the mysteries belong to the Knight… I’m digressing. Sorry.
As I’ve said before, this bit of history simply doesn’t exist in the curriculum in History lessons in England. Basically, you might hear about the Crusades (although no details) and the next thing that happens of consequence is the Black Death. If you ask the man in the street, the only thing that they might be able to dredge up about Edward II is the red hot poker. So one good reason to read this book is to fill in a gap or two in your knowledge.
It’s worth pointing that out because up to now, Michael has taken advantage of Devon’s relative isolation to keep the stories away from the political upheaval that the country was going through. But as we get closer to the return of Roger Mortimer and the deposition of King Edward, some things can’t be ignored, so we start to see the rumbling of discontent here.
But we also see the personal side of things as it’s Hugh’s turn to take a turn in the spotlight – well, up to a point, obviously. And we get a complex character-driven murder mystery, as you’d expect from Michael. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for this series and this is another strong entry – the twentieth out of twenty in fact.
At the end of the day, I was a little surprised at the motivation behind the fate of Hugh’s family – I thought there was going to be (yet) another twist in the tale – but regardless, this is a highly enjoyable read. Yet again, I’ll attempt to convince readers of modern day crime fiction to try Michael’s work – they on a par with the very best crime fiction out there, just with more peasants. And this one is Highly Recommended.