Spring 1322, and the money lenders of Oakhampton are anticipating a good trade. Lord Hugh de Courtnenay is planning a tournament and any knight who is defeated is duty bound to pay a ransom to their captor – a ransom that they can usually not afford. The only money lender who is not rubbing his hands is Benjamin Dudenay of Exeter, because he has had his caved in.
Jump forward a month to the tournament itself, and Sir Baldwin Furnshill, Keeper of the King’s Peace and Bailiff Simon Puttock are in attendance when Wymond Carpenter, a carpenter (what else?) charged with building the stands is found with identical injuries to Dudenay. Surely none of the noble knights or squires could be responsible? Well that would be great if there was an ounce to nobility in the competitors.
This is an important book for me in the Michael Jecks series which is why I’ve been putting off reading this one. You see, once upon a time, it was the book that caused me to stop reading the series…
Let me explain. We’re talking ten or so years ago and I was on the hunt for a new series to follow. I’d read a couple of these a few years earlier. So I picked this one up from the library and settled down with it. And then the murderer was named on the first page. And the motive followed pretty quickly thereafter. So what was left to read? The book went back to the library unfinished.
Let’s make it official. I’m an idiot. Actually, let’s use the past tense – I was an idiot. So what’s changed?
I’ve never liked the subgenre of the inverted mystery – where we know who the killer is and then we follow our heroes trying to catch the killer out. That’s what I’d expected, I think, and having recently read a disappointing entry in the Dalziel and Pascoe series that was exactly that, I decided not to bother. But, as regular readers will know, this is the eleventh in the series and the twelfth book that I’ve read on this second time around. And I trust Michael Jecks to deliver the goods, even when the book seems to be going in a different direction than I’d expect.
So what do we have here? First off, an essay on the history of the medieval tournament precedes the book which is worth the price of admission alone. Secondly, this is a proper mystery novel, despite the reader knowing the name and motive of the murderer. I can’t really clarify that point without going into spoilers, but there’s a complexity to events that is only revealed at the last minute, one element of which is genuinely surprising, especially to long-term readers. Third, the setting is fascinating. The backdrop of the medieval tournament is brought vividly to life, and the points of view of the various knights and squires gives a full picture of the event. And finally, it’s a novel about family and the lengths that people will go to for their loved ones. And it works on every single one of those levels.
Much more than a simple mystery novel – this, as with many others in the series, is a strong story even without that part of the plot. Highly Recommended, in case you couldn’t guess.
For the other reviews of the series to date, please check out the Michael Jecks page. And here’s Michael to try to persuade you to read it as well.