The Poisoned Chalice by Bernard Knight

‘Nother Chance November continues with another author that I happily created a page for after reading one book and then never returned to. The series concerns Crowner John, the King’s coroner in Exeter in the late twelfth century. Richard I is on the throne (so these are roughly contemporous with the Alys Clare books) but as he’s busy crusading, the country’s in a bit of a mess. The series opened with The Sanctuary Seeker – let’s see what I thought about that one.

“There’s enough here (just) to entice me back for a second helping at some point, but I think if the plot was as basic as this, then I’d not come back for a third outing.”

So, is this the book that converts me to the series, or am I going to have to quietly delete the bibliography page?

A report reaches Crowner John’s ears concerning a shipwreck in the vicinity of Torre. When he uncovers some sailors’ bodies, recently buried, he has to deal with the ramifications of the theft and possible murder. But meanwhile, in Exeter, the daughter of a rich merchant is raped and then Lady Adele de Courcy is found dead. The local silversmith seems to have links to both women, and as tempers rise in the city, and the sheriff’s only solution seems to be to torture a confession out of anyone and everyone, the coroner finds himself having to find the criminals before the city explodes in misdirected vengeance…

The blurb on the back of the book describes this book as “another meticulously researched mystery” and I certainly can’t question that. Bernard Knight, a former Home Office pathologist, clearly knows the period inside out, from the living conditions to the legal wrangles between the coroner and the sheriff (also his brother-in-law). The detail is incredibly impressive.

The closest thing that the book resembles to me is a historical police procedural – there is a whodunnit here – but the writer is more concerned with how the crime is investigated and dealt with in the alien environment of the twelfth century. And unfortunately, for me, it commits a cardinal sin. The Tavern In The Morning may have been many things – see that review to see what I mean – but at least I didn’t get bored when reading it.

To me, in a mystery novel, the crime has to have a fantastical element to it, however mild, whether it is in the execution of the crime or the obscurement of the criminal’s identity. Instead here we have a book that is probably the most realistic historical mystery novel that I’ve read, with the possible exception of the first in the series. And, while I am impressed with what the writer has done here, I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed reading it.

So, where do we go with this series? I can’t say I have any urge to dive in to the next one, but there is always the argument that as a series evolves, then it changes. So I might, in months to come, find one of the latter books in the series and give it a go… but it won’t be for a while. It looks like ‘Nother Chance November may have claimed its first victim…

By the way, don’t mistake this book with another historical mystery with the same name – that one’s almost the opposite of the this one, and, to be honest, a lot more fun.

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