London, 1390, and Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight and current “Tracker” is approached by a beautiful stranger, who needs his help – only the task in question involves his nemesis, the former Lord Sheriff of London, Simon Winchcombe. But before any deal can be reached, their meeting is interrupted by the arrival of a dying monk, clutching a valuable relic. And with a dagger in his back, a dagger that Guest recognises as belonging to Winchcombe…
As Guest finds himself trying to find the identity of the monk, the source of the relic, the whereabouts of Winchcombe – and the beautiful stranger, Katherine, who disappears once the body appears – and more bodies pile up, he finds himself up against an adversary who just might be smarter than he is.
This is the tenth Guest mystery but the first for me. I was thinking about the direction the blog might be taking, given the prevalence of the Golden Age recently. Well, apart from cutting back on the unreliable narrator genre – until the next N J Fountain book, anyway – the only thing that I realised was that it was well past time that I went back in time again. So I looked around Netgalley and came up with this one.
It’s set about ten years after Paul Doherty’s Athelstan series, in the reign of Richard II – it’s mentioned that Guest was a follower of Bolingbroke (later Henry IV). I presume that means in the 1387 uprising, but as Bolingbroke was forgiven, I guess that’s why Guest wasn’t executed. There’s a fair bit of back story that I felt a regular reader of the series would know, but is only hinted at here. Of course, this is the problem with many a series – does the writer keep repeating the back-story in every book and alienate the regular readers, or just hint enough to try and keep new readers on board?
The best part of this tale is the relationship between Guest and Katherine. This aspect of the plot keeps bouncing around, whereas the mystery plot is just fine. Perfectly entertaining, but nothing revolutionary. And it didn’t help that when one party is found guilty of one aspect of the crime, I found myself wondering who that character was.
The biggest problem for me – and I admit that this is probably not a major issue for most – is that I never got a real sense of when the tale was set. Apart from the mention of Bolingbroke, this could have been set anywhere in pre-Renaissance period. Indeed the notion of the equivalent of a cat-burglar just felt… off. No particular reason, just off.
So, a perfectly decent historical mystery, and I imagine that fans of the series will love it. Worth A Look.