Villein – a medieval term for a peasant who was legally tied to the lord of the manor. Peter Bruther was one such villein, but flees from the estate of Sir William Beauscyr. To escape his punishment, he sets himself up as a tin miner, which places him directly under the protection of Edward II, who is happily taxing them in return. The friction between Sir William’s family and the tin miners on the more is already at breaking point when a shocking discovery is made – Bruther’s body is found hanging from a tree, out on the moors – hence the title.
Simon Puttock and Sir Baldwin Furnshill, already in the area to mediate the initial dispute, find themselves not only investigating a murder, but also trying to stop the tension between the miners and Beauscyr from exploding into violence.
The third in this series (currently at 31 books and a prequel) looking at mysteries in Devon in the reign of Edward II (and latterly, I think, Edward III), and I’ve enjoyed the first two. How about the third?
Tin mining in medieval Devon doesn’t sound like the most enthralling setting for a murder mystery, does it? But Jecks takes full advantage of the strange legal situation regarding tin miners – namely that if you claimed a piece of land and started mining tin on it, then the land is yours, even if it belonged to someone else beforehand – and crafts a story where the motivations are such that the story could ONLY be set in medieval Devon. It’s not always the case that a historical mystery takes full advantage of the setting, but that is certainly true here.
Jecks does a sterling job of juggling quite a large cast of characters, each with their own motivations and, despite reading it at times in a relatively piecemeal way (the house-move again – I’ll shut up about it soon), I didn’t have any trouble remembering or following what was going on.
The solution is both satisfying and a little tragic, and my first thought on finishing the book was how much I was looking forward to the next in the series. So, obviously, the book is Highly Recommended.
By the way, do take a look at Michael Jecks’ blog, Writerly Witterings. Full of fascinating insight into the writing process. Oh, and the book has been recently re-released, along with The Last Templar and The Merchant’s Partner, with a shiny new cover – although I have to say, I prefer the original one. The new one’s a bit generic for my tastes, but what do I know?