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by Michael Jecks
Simon & Schuster, Ltd., May 2011
544 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0857201115

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It is autumn 1326. Edward II has been deposed and imprisoned at Kenilworth castle. The senior member of the Bardis, a Florentine banking family, is murdered, and the two remaining brothers debate whether to offer finance to Duke Edward, as he is then known, in the hope of restoration, or to Isabella, mother of the young King Edward III, and her lover Roger Mortimer. An unsuccessful attempt is made to release Duke Edward from Kenilworth; he is moved to Berkeley Castle where a further murder occurs, this time of Sir Jevan de Bromfield, a knight. Amongst those guarding Duke Edward are Sir Baldwin de Furnhill and Simon Puttock, who have appeared in previous works in this series and who assist the local coroner in solving these two crimes.

Jecks paints a convincingly unpleasant picture of medieval life. Perpetual discomfort, unvaried and unpalatable diet and a life full of risk are amply illustrated. In addition, plenty of nasty surprises await the less fortunate characters, which include representatives of all classes including a humble carter who falls victim to an axe man with a grievance.

Thumbnail sketches are given of the scenes of action and of the backgrounds of the characters. These are effective as far as they go, but left a definite thirst for greater depth. Considerations of practicality perhaps rule this out in a book that already runs to over 500 pages, especially when the cast is so large and, in view of this, the three-page cast list in the preface proved indispensable, particularly because the scene of action changes so frequently, often more than once per page, which has a tendency to be disorientating. The predominance of plot may be held at least partly responsible for the difficulties in characterisation.

The story has plenty of twists and turns, with multiple crimes to be solved before the end, and will almost certainly prove to be popular with those who like their historical fiction fast-paced and unflagging.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, November 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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