Short Story Review: Eye Witness by Ellis Peters

Eye Witness is the third and final short story in the collection, A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

 An enjoyable, quick read that sees Cadfael tackle a mystery with his usual style of logic, observation and a keen understanding people.  A perfectly cosy, comfort read.  4.5 / 5

Summary

The yearly rents are due for collection from all the properties owned by Shrewsbury Abbey.  The monk whose job it is to oversee and collect these monies, Brother Ambrose, is sick in the infirmary, and so the task must fall to another, William Rede.  The job is a difficult one, but he also has problems closer to home.  His son, Eddi, is a “brawler and a gamester”.  When he racks up debts, he expects his father to pay them, but not this time.  William Rede has decided enough is enough.

The following day, Madog of the Dead-Boat pulls a man out of the River Severn, still alive but in a bad way.  The man is William Rede and the Abbey rents have been stolen.

Cadfael will have to use all at his disposal to not only help William Rede recover, but also to find out if the victim’s son is really as guilty as he looks…

Favourite Quote

“Now William,” he said tolerantly, “if you can’t comfort, don’t vex.”

Review

Although this is only a short story, it is packed with as much story as one of the full length Cadfael novels.  This means that although you may have your suspicions as to who is the culprit, you are not quite sure until you reach the end.

It is a well-thought out mystery that Cadfael tackles with his usual style of logic, observation and a keen understanding of people.  He is not going to make the same mistake as others in jumping to the wrong – and the easiest – conclusion.

As the final story in this collection it is perfect, showing each side to Cadfael’s personality – the healer, the mystery solver, the sympathetic, compassionate man who understands both the problems of real life and a life hidden away from the world.  By the end of Eye Witness, and thus A Rare Benedictine, we see that Cadfael is not only settled in his new life, but enjoying it.  We also see the sleuth he is to become.

This collection makes the perfect prequel to the novels.  If you’ve read the longer stories but not these, I recommend you do.

Rating

4.5 / 5

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Book Review: The Sanctuary Seeker by Bernard Knight

The Sanctuary Seeker is the first book in the Crowner John Mysteries by Bernard Knight.

Summary (from Goodreads)

November, 1194 AD. Appointed by Richard the Lionheart as the first coroner for the county of Devon, Sir John de Wolfe, recently returned from the Crusades, rides out to the lonely moorland village of Widecombe to hold an inquest on an unidentified body.

But on his return to Exeter, the new coroner is incensed to find that his own brother-in-law, Sheriff Richard de Revelle, is intent on thwarting the murder investigation, particularly when it emerges that the dead man is a Crusader, and a member of one of Devon’s finest and most honourable families…

Favourite Quote

It was now more than three hours since they had left Exeter and the ceaseless downpour along the eastern edge of Dartmoor was enough to rot a man’s soul.

Review

The first time I came across Crowner John it wasn’t in one of the Crowner John Mysteries but in The Tainted Relic by The Medieval Murderers, of which Bernard Knight is one.  I so thoroughly enjoyed the Crowner John story (in that and subsequent volumes) that I knew I had to give this mystery series a try.

My first impression of the book came from its cover, and I loved it.  I also liked the chapter subheadings, which always began with, “In which Crowner John…” does something or other.

I really enjoyed the story too.  The characters are diverse and have their own histories which nicely come through as the tale unfolds, adding richness and depth.  Crowner John is an interesting character with an interesting task to tackle which the author presented in an engaging way.  It would have been very easy to bog down the story with great swathes of historical detail, but that isn’t a problem here.

There is an authentic feel to the story, not solely because of the level of historical accuracy but also because the characters feel quite true to the time period.  The mystery is a good one and the story moves at a good if not fast pace.

The glossary in the front of the book was very handy and very informative.  In fact, I learnt a great deal from reading it, and although I know a fair amount about the period (I like to consider myself a bit of a history buff) some of the in-depth information I had never come across before whilst other snippets built upon what I already knew.

The Sanctuary Seeker was a great historical mystery, and an enticing first book in a series.  As such, I am looking forward to reading book two, The Poisoned Chalice.

I recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Book Review: The Vault of Bones by Pip Vaughan-Hughes

The Vault of Bones is the second book in the Brother Petroc series by Pip Vaughan-Hughes.

Summary (from back of book)

In the darkness of 13th-century Europe, the most precious treasures of the Christian world lie in a small church in the great ruined city of Constantinople: the crown of thorns, the spear that pierced Jesus’ side, the shroud bearing the imprint of Christ.

On the other side of the globe, Petroc of Auneford has left his old monastic world for London alongside the enigmatic Captain de Montalhac, purveyor of fine relics and other exotic trinkets to anyone with sufficient money and desire.

For Petroc, the trip is soon blighted by tragedy, but grief is no guard against greed.  The great powers of Christendom are gathering.  All covet the power of the most precious relics – and Petroc finds himself right in the eye of the storm.

Favourite Quote

But before I laid down my head I put my head out of the small window and craned to look up at the great walls of the city.  A little moonlight glanced off the cut stones and sank into the gashes and wounds of siege and time.  They had not kept out the robbers, these walls, and perhaps it was their penance to be reduced to a home for ivy and pigeons.

Review

This was an interesting story, if a slow read.  The pace did hamper my enjoyment of the book.  If the book had been perhaps 100 pages shorter, I think I would have found it more gripping, and more of a thriller.  Every place the characters stop in is accompanied by a detailed travel guide to the place as it would have looked and sounded like in the thirteen century, which on the one hand adds detail to what is going on, but also slows it down considerably.

That being said, it did have an entertaining storyline and the cast of characters were engaging.  Petroc has led a colourful life of late, something his monastic life hadn’t prepared him for.  The crew of the Cormaran are a diverse bunch, and their captain, Michel de Montalhac as a dealer of the finest relics, is interesting and likeable.

I hadn’t read the first book in the Brother Petroc series before reading this instalment, and I wonder if it would have allowed me to enjoy it more.  And yet, there was enough in it to keep me reading to the last page, hence my rating.

I would consider reading book one, and the later books in the series.

Rating

2.5 / 5

Book Review: A Dreadful Penance by Jason Vail

A Dreadful Penance is the third book in the Stephen Attebrook Mysteries by Jason vail

Summary (from back of book)

November 1262 is an unlikely season for war.  But war nonetheless is coming to the March, the wild borderland between England and Wales.  Not the war that most fear between the supporters of the King and the rebellious barons uniting around Simon de Montfort, but with Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the Welsh warlord who styles himself Prince of Wales and who has united the fractious tribes of his land against the English.

The English are uncertain, however, where and when the blow will fall.  So, Sir Geoffrey Randall, coroner of Herefordshire, dispatches his deputy, the impoverished knight Stephen Attebrook, to the border town of Clun to make contact with a spy in order to learn Llewelyn’s plans.

At the same time, Randall directs Attebrook to investigate the murder of a monk found dead in his bed at the Augustine priory of St. George at Clun.

The assignment casts Attebrook into the middle of a desperate feud between the priory and the lord of Clun and reveals a forbidden love that can only result in suffering and death.

Favourite Quote

Although he could not help looking clownish – a little round man with his head wrapped in linen who could barely keep his place upon his mule – any fool was dangerous with a sword.

Review

This is the first book I have read in the Stephen Attebrook Mysteries and I loved it.  I have added the other books to my TBR list, but this novel works well as a standalone.  The author provides enough information on what has gone before to ensure the reader can, not only keep up with the storyline, but enjoy it also without feeling like they needed to have read the first two books before this one.

Stephen Attebrook is an interesting character.  I like his fairly abrasive personality and the antagonistic camaraderie he shared with Gilbert Wistwode,a clerk also in the employ of Sir Geoffrey Randall.

I thought the story was a little slow to get going at first, but a couple of chapters in and the pace and the drama suddenly picked up.  What followed was an entertaining, gripping read, that I struggled to put down.  The historical detail was fascinating, with sufficient depth to bring the time and place to life.  The only thing I didn’t like was that I felt the ending was too abrupt.

I am eager to read more of this series, and would recommend this books to anyone who has an interest in the Marches during the medieval period and to those who enjoy historical fiction in general.

Rating

Book Review: Inquisition by Alfredo Colitto

Summary:

Bologna, 1311. Mondino de Liuzzi, a well-known physician is staying late at the university where he teaches.  This is nothing unusual for he often stays late in order to secretly study corpses in an effort to understand as much as he can about the human body.  When a surprise knock on the door disturbs him, he answers it to find one of his students holding the body of a murdered friend.

The victim: a Templar knight.  But what is striking is that there is something very unnatural about the dead body: his heart has been turned to iron.

Mondino’s curiosity is piqued.  How could a human heart be transformed into a solid block of iron?  Is it alchemy?  In order to find out, he is going to have to help a wanted man catch the murderer and in so doing, go up against a dangerous and ambitious Inquisitor…

Favourite Quote:

It was clear to his scientific mind that the transformation of Angelo da Piczano’s heart was not the result of the shadowy spell of a witch, but the much more concrete art of alchemy.

Review:

A few times I’ve had trouble reading books that have been translated into English; they can lack fluidity, creating jarring sentences that inhibit the pace of the story.  Inquisition was translated by Sophie Henderson, and in my opinion, she has done a fantastic job.  It was so well translated that, if it hadn’t been for the brief mention of it at the start of the book, I would never have guessed.

Fourteenth century Italy was vividly brought to life as I worked my way through the story.  Mondino de Liuzzi is an engaging character; he has an interesting job as a physician teaching at a university at a time when science and religion are at loggerheads.  He is a complex character that finds himself in a very difficult, and very dangerous, position.  And as he tries to unravel the mystery of the iron heart, he has much more to contend with.  The rest of the cast are just as well thought out and believable as Mondino, and like the scientist, have their own secrets and agendas, making this a fast-paced, gripping read.

Filled with action and drama, secrets and revenge, Inquisition is a suspenseful read which held my attention from the very first page.  A number of times I wondered how the characters were going to get out of the situations they found themselves in, and there were more than a handful of twists and turns to keep me guessing.  I also thought the ending was clever.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  I recommend it to those interested in any of the following: the history of fourteenth century Europe, the early days of modern science, the Knights Templar and the Inquisition.

Rating:

Short Story Review: Flyting, Fighting by Clayton Emery

murder-through-the-ages-front-coverSet in 1192, this quick read focuses on Robin Hood and Marian after their wedding.

The couple are going through the forest, arguing over Robin’s way with women, when Robin spots a jumble of footprints on the ground.  Interpreting the signs, Robin believes a group of men have abducted a young woman, and decides to go off to try and save her.  Marian doesn’t quite believe him (the footprints make no sense to her), but she goes along anyway, the pair of them continuing their argument as they follow the trail…

But is Robin right?  And if so, who is the young woman?  Who are the men who have taken her?

This was a fun short story.  The chemistry between Robin and Marian was perfect, and the back and forth bickering was completely believable.  I enjoyed reading this; it was so amusing, and I would definitely read it again.

I found this short story in, Murder Through the Ages: A Bumper Anthology of Historical Mysteries, edited by Maxim Jakubowski.

Book Review: The White Rose Turned to Blood by Rosemary Hawley Jarman

the-white-rose-turned-to-blood-front-coverThe White Rose Turned to Blood is the concluding part of We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman.

The first book in this two-part series focused on Richard, Duke of Gloucester before he became Richard III, and told the tale as it was witnessed by his mistress and the court fool.  (See my review, here.)  But now Edward IV is dead and the main factions at court are trying to survive after the only man who could keep the peace between them is gone.

For this first part of the tale we have as our guide Mark Archer (who we met briefly in book 1).  He is Richard’s sworn man and friend; an archer with exceptionally good eyesight.  Through his testimony we are taken through the troublesome time between Edward IV’s death to the fateful battle at Bosworth.  Mark Archer is a likeable character who shows how devious political wranglings could be, and how the most innocent actions could be used to cover up the not-so-innocent.  But most of all, he serves to show us what kind of a king Richard might have been.

Then, for the second part of the book, we go back to hear how the story concludes from the point of view of Richard’s one-time mistress, who we only ever know as the Nut-Brown Maid.  Her tale is a poignant one – she is at the mercy of circumstance, and only learns what happens, for the most part, months later, so far removed is she now from the court.  We learn what has occurred in her small world since we last heard from her in The Flowering of the Rose, and then on, past the battle at Bosworth and into the beginnings of Tudor England.  Her story is moving, and the love she bore for Richard gives her the strength and the courage to face danger.

It is a very sympathetic and likeable Richard we meet in the course of these books, and I for one am glad.  He makes for a very good, very interesting central character and it would have been easy for the author to go along with the much maligned figure many are familiar with.

One of my favourite characters (from either book) had to be the young girl, Edyth.  But it is the emotive, heartbreaking tale told by the Nut-Brown Maid that really captured my interest, and even on occasion, brought tears to my eyes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, along with the first, The Flowering of the Rose, and I can’t recommend either highly enough.  A great piece of historical fiction and fluid storytelling.