February 1325 and the relationship between the kingdoms of England and France is balanced on a knife edge. All Sir Baldwin de Furnshill wants is to look after his wife and new-born son – but history has other plans for him.
A peace envoy is being sent to France, led by Isabella, the wife of Edward II of England and the sister of the French King Charles, and Baldwin and his friend Simon Puttock have been ordered to join the party crossing the channel. The entourage consists of everyone from Isabella herself, down to the various servants accompanying them – and needless to say, not everyone is travelling with the best intentions.
When a man is killed one night and Baldwin is implicated, it is clear that somebody is trying to disrupt the peace effort. Is Sir Hugh Despenser, advisor and alleged lover of Edward, pulling the strings, or is someone else interfering with his plans? Is the Queen herself in danger? Baldwin and Simon need to move quickly because waiting in the wings is Roger Mortimer – the greatest traitor that England has ever seen…
Book 24 of whatever this series is called – Michael’s website refers to it as just “The Templar Series”, so let’s go with that – and yet again, we have something different, an impressive feat after twenty-three other books. This follows on directly from Dispensation of Death, where Baldwin came to the attention of Isabella and, more unfortunately, Despenser, and I’d highly recommend starting there. Although actually, if you’re after a straightforward murder mystery, I’d start elsewhere.
Let me clarify – I’m not saying don’t read this book. Not in the slightest. But the series has moved on from the more mystery-focused tales from earlier in the series as now international politics has moved to the forefront of events. While there is a central mystery going on here, the action is spread across two months and necessarily, it takes some time for that mystery to become the centre of attention. While it does, there is a general sense of intrigue bubbling along, while we follow the various characters in the events that may or may not be connected to the overarching plot.
In some ways, this reminds me of Michael’s Fields Of Glory, his non-mystery tale of the Hundred Years War, which was a riveting read, as was this. While there were times when I wanted to smack Baldwin around the head and remind him to focus on sorting the murders out, it’s understandable that they aren’t an immediate priority, as if, as threatened, he is exposed as a Templar, then his life would be forfeit in Charles’ court. But the other events going on kept my attention throughout and my interest and enjoyment never waned throughout the tale.
This is a strong historical mystery novel, but, as I said, I’d recommend that new readers start elsewhere, as this is jumping into the deep end of the series. Nonetheless, for fans of the series, for fans of historical novels and for fans of, well, good books, this is Highly Recommended.