Ashes of the Elements by Alys Clare

We last met Sir Josse D’Acquin and the Abbess Helewise of Hawkenlye Abbey in Fortune Like The Moon, an uncomplicated but decent little mystery set in Kent in 1189. We skip forward two years, and Josse returns to Kent to his newly almost-built manor house and decides to pop in to see his friend at the Abbey.

Needless to say, she’s just tripped (literally) over the corpse of a local ne’er-do-well, stabbed in the back by a flint spear – a decidedly odd choice of weapon in 1191. The local sheriff is more than happy to blame the mysterious and possibly non-existent “forest people” but when another death follows, it seems that things need sorting out. Add in the odd behaviour of a couple of women from the abbey who seem obsessed by the forest, it seems that the stories of the forest folk may be true after all… unless something else is taking place, letting the local stories take the blame.

So, after a simple uncomplicated opener to the series, what do we have this time?

Well, it’s pretty simple and uncomplicated again, really. It’s a decent story, well-told, and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, coming in at about 240 pages. Good thing, really, as I think there were hints of padding at times – notably in the middle section that I can’t really mention without spoiling an odd part of the plot – but it’s a bit weird.

The whodunnit is nicely layered, although the first death has a disappointing resolution, and there is some nice misdirection regarding motives, at least – I say that as you’d probably guess the right murderer for what transpires to be the main plot, but probably for the wrong reason. There’s a panache for pulling off that sort of trick which is missing to an extent here, but there’s plenty going on to keep you busy.

But… there are only so many tales involving women sneaking out of the abbey in the middle of the night to do mysterious things, and the well has run dry already. There’s an odd epilogue of sorts discussing what Prince John is up to with regards stealing the crown and some discussion as to the fact that Richard I was in fact a pretty rubbish King, implying that the historical background may move to the foreground in upcoming stories. I do hope so, as I think that might add the spark that the series will need to maintain my interest for the long run. I’m not convinced that there’s much mileage in the romance subplot, so it needs… something. A change of scenery, maybe.

Anyway, it’s a decent enough read, but there are better historical mysteries of this ilk out there – I point you in the direction of Paul Doherty and Peter Tremayne. Fingers crossed that the series makes a step forward with the next book.


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