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by Iris Collier
Piatkus, June 2004
320 pages
ISBN: 0749906960

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is the third book in a series of historical crime novels set in Henry VIII's reign just after the death of Queen Jane Seymour and the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Nicholas Peverell is the hero, as in the previous books, and is newly married to Jane whose intelligence and skills he respects even when he orders her not to get involved in such a dangerous business as this murder case becomes.

The mores of the period are clearly shown by Nicholas's authoritarian efforts to protect Jane when she wants to aid in investigating the horrific death and mutilation of the bishop and the strange events that follow. The hierarchical class structure of England during the reign of Henry VIII is well illustrated by Nicholas's position in this area of his estates on the remote Sussex salt marshes. As a significant landowner who found the corpse he is automatically involved in the investigations. He however has even greater reasons for his involvement when the King sends another nobleman to indicate that his majesty expects Nicholas to deal with the killing as rapidly as possible.

The story develops through thrilling events to a shattering, though possibly unlikely, climax. The sheriff's suspicions of witchcraft are almost an obsession -- he has immediately arrested three women as witches. Nicholas feels that the sheriff is too single-minded in blaming witchcraft for the bishop's death and he investigates other members of the Church.

This story is well set amidst the tumultuous events of Henry's dissolution of the monasteries and shows the effects of this on churchmen and their families. In fact period detail is beautifully inserted into the life at Nicholas's manor house, in the poverty-stricken marsh villages and at the cathedral -- food, clothes, music and attitudes reflect those different styles.

I realise that the use of contemporary Tudor language would be impossible -- even Shakespeare's plays require considerable interpretation of the imagery and language. I accept therefore that a modern terminology must be used but there are some modern phrases used here that really grate on my ear -- for example a comment that 'the case had rocked the county', and Nicholas's statement that 'it's simply routine procedure in murder cases to interview anyone who has connections with the victim . . .' which sounds far too much like a modern policeman in a period when the police force did not exist. Indeed the rough-hewn sheriff with his crude responses to crime is the face of crime investigation under the Tudors as the author shows.

Reviewed by Jennifer S. Palmer, August 2004

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