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by Jeri Westerson
Minotaur Books, October 2010
307 pages
ISBN: 0312621043

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's the year 1384 in London and four boys orphans and street urchins have been killed in a matter of months. The two sheriffs grudgingly ask Crispin Guest for his help. Once a nobleman, Guest has been reduced to being almost penniless after he was convicted of being a traitor. Now he earns his living as a "tracker," known for his ability to solve puzzles. Someone else also has sought his services a Jewish physician serving the queen has had valuable parchments stolen from him. One of those scrolls has the Hebrew words which, once uttered, can create a Golem a demon out of clay. Is this demon the one killing the boys? Guest is not usually a superstitious man, but he and his young apprentice, Jack Tucker, have seen just such a creature in the foggy London streets.

THE DEMON'S PARCHMENT is a multilayered historical novel, based (as Westerson tells us in an afterword) on a true story. The book also explores the attitude of the time toward Jews one that Guest himself sometimes shares. Jews had been expelled from England a century before and even those who had converted remained ghettoed. And stories of Jews sacrificing Christian children during Passover were taken as fact. The Jewish physician at court, Jacob of Provencal, is from France and treated with rare courtesy. But, even though he is Guest's client, the tracker is predisposed to distrust Jacob's son, accusing him of the murders.

Westerson writes with such knowledge and skill that you feel as if you are walking those shadowy streets and alleys of London during a cold winter, and quenching your thirst at Guest's favorite tavern. Her protagonist is complicated not always likable, but interesting. And the historical detail is as interesting as the mystery. Sometimes a mystery is not only enjoyable, but enlightening. This is one of those.

Lourdes Venard is a newspaper editor in Long Island, N.Y.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, October 2010

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