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DEATH OF A SQUIRE
by Maureen Ash
Berkley, January 2008
252 pages
$6.99
ISBN: 0425219593


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lincolnshire, late autumn of AD 1200. Three poachers are taking a deer in the forest when one of them spies a body hanging from a tree. The body is that of a young man of about 16, who is well dressed. He is evidently a squire from the nearby castle.

The poachers leave but the game warden soon finds the remains of the deer and the body. He reports to the sheriff, Gerard Canville who is the husband of the castellan, Nicolaa de la Haye. Nicolaa calls in Bascot de Marins, a Knight Templar who has been in residence in Lincoln for almost a year, with his mute servant and ward, Gianni, a young urchin he found in Italy.

Bascot maintains his vows of poverty and chastity and has been given permission to live apart from the Templars while his mind and body heals from his long years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the infidel. He returned to England to find his family dead and has been living at the castle in the employ of Nicolaa.

As he investigates, he discovers that the murdered squire was a weasly sort of young man, bedding every available woman with or without her permission. He was not much liked by his fellows and not at all mourned. But he was murdered and Bascot feels it his duty to discover the reason for this and the culprit who caused it.

The investigation proceeds along standard lines for 1200. Talking to people is the prime method of search, since forensics did not exist that early. We get a picture of life in the castle and the poverty of the surrounding villages. The peasants had to give two days a week of work to the castle in exchange for rent. Nicolaa was not a difficult mistress and did not overwork her serfs, but the tax collector and game wardens were careful to make sure no one overstepped his mark. The peasants had to pay to allow their livestock to graze in the forest or to collect firewood. It was not an easy life. And the outlaws living in the greenwood were dangerous.

This is the second in the chronicles of Bascot de Marin, Knight Templar. We get a good picture of life in a city during this period, including the strong women that ran the castles when their husbands were away killing infidels.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, January 2008

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