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by Catherine Hanley
Mystery Press, July 2012
248 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 075248091X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Catherine Hanley's book, the first in a trilogy featuring her unwilling 13th century mystery solver Edwin Weaver, is a slow burner. It takes five chapters to get to the event on which the rest of the story hangs. But it is worth waiting for.

The author, a medievalist, spends the early chapters building her characters with skill and sympathy, bringing their lives in the structured and formal setting of Conisborough castle into a sharp focus. She puts the subsequent action into the context of a divided England, partly occupied by a French prince and on the verge of an escalating civil war.

William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey, is lord of Conisborough. Loyal to his cousin, the dead King John, Surrey, an illegitimate grandson of Henry II, must take a decision that may endanger his own life and that of his family and retainers. Does he back those barons who have invited the Frenchman Louis to rule or throw in his lot with John's nine-year-old son Henry? Henry's regent is the incorruptible, but narrow, earl of Pembroke, who would rule according to Magna Carta, the great charter limiting royal powers some barons had forced John to sign.

Deciding to back England against France, Surrey's departure to war is delayed by the arrival of another Yorkshire magnate, a man with a reputation as one of the shifty and violent John's most depraved enforcers and his equally repellent brother. When the man is found murdered, Surrey is in trouble. He knows the regent will never accept his failure to care for a guest, no matter how unwelcome, and will suspect his motives. Such suspicion could cost his family everything they possess. He turns to his household bailiff to resolve the killing, only to discover the man is terminally ill and that his son, the nineteen-year-old Edwin, is carrying out many of his duties. Advised by his senior household knight that the boy has a cool and analytical mind, he charges Edwin with solving the mystery before he leaves just two days later.

Edwin is fighting his own problems, unable to come to terms with his father's approaching death. The investigation is complicated by a second killing, that of a lowly soldier. But aided by his friends, Edwin discovers a different man within himself and somehow completes what seems an impossible task at the same time uncovering more murders fifteen years before, one of which changed the face of England and a cover up which sparked a young boy's quest for revenge.

THE SINS OF THE FATHERS is well plotted, carefully crafted, with a cast of believable suspects and an absorbing portrayal of all the inequalities and contradictions of medieval life at a time of great flux in our history. The book, in a new edition by the Mystery division of The History Press, is an absolute must read for readers who like their mysteries complicated and their settings realistic. At the same time it is an inspiring and sensitive tale of a young man's passage into adulthood in the most trying of circumstances. If his next adventures are a patch on this, Edwin Weaver may well become one of the great fictional detectives for the discerning reader.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, September 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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