A Murder Too Soon by Michael Jecks

June 1554, and following the events of a failed rebellion, Jack Blackjack has found himself in the employ of one Thomas Parry as an assassin. There remains the slight problem that he has never actually killed anybody (and doesn’t particularly want to) but other than that, it’s an ideal occupation. Money, wine, women… and then he is sent to Woodstock.

Woodstock is where Queen Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth is staying, not that she has much choice in the matter. There are concerns that a spy has been installed in the Princess’s retinue and Jack has his instructions – kill the spy. Having little choice, he enters the household and promptly trips over the body of the woman that he was supposed to kill. As Jack struggles to find the real killer – and convince his employers that he did commit the crime – it seems that most of the members of the household had a reason to kill the spy. And now it seems that most of them want to kill Jack as well…

Right, let’s get “Twerp-gate” out of the way first. Michael Jecks, the author of this tome and the Knights’ Templar Mysteries or whatever they’re called this week, called me a twerp on Twitter recently. Insulting the reviewer is an interesting strategy from an author, isn’t it?

OK, maybe he had a bit of a point. He tweeted a recommendation for a great mystery novel review site, at which I got excited about a new resource and clicked on the very obvious link to… yes, my own website. And then related this event of twitter. So maybe he had a point…

Anyway, obviously the gloves are off for this one.

Um…

Maybe…

Um…

Bugger, can’t really find anything to moan about here. I could say something about another book set in the Tudor times, but as I mentioned last time – Rebellion’s Message – this is the time of Mary Tudor, a little-mined era for historical mystery fiction. I’m sure we’ll hit Elizabeth’s reign at some point in this hopefully long-running series, but not yet. And as I’m hooked already, I won’t care.

Michael does a clever job differentiating this from his other work. Writing in the first person, from Jack Blackjack’s point of view, he keeps the reader’s interest not just with Jack’s witty reprobate personality, but by only revealing information as Jack discovers it without forcing an information dump on the reader. One example, to explain what I’m trying to say, is this. Early on, Jack is accosted by a large individual. He doesn’t get his name, so refers to him as One-Eye, for reasons you can probably figure out. But once he eventually does find out his name, he still refers to him as One-Eye (occasionally correcting himself) as that’s what he’s got used to doing. That may sound like a small thing, but the narrative is full of that sort of thing.

The other little triumph, apart from the twisty plot and me failing to spot the murderer, is the character of Jack. It’s not easy to make a self-interested, somewhat amoral character a likeable lead, but the author carries it off with aplomb. And there’s a wonderful bit towards the end where I thought for a moment that Jack had gone a bit Poirot just to tidy things up, but by the end of the book, it all made perfect sense.

Released on Wednesday 31st May by Severn House, this is another enjoyable book from one of my favourite authors. Even after calling me a twerp, this is Highly Recommended.

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