Dartmouth, September 1324. A merchant ship is found burning at sea, apparently ravaged by pirates. One crew member is found on board, stabbed through the heart, but the rest of the crew is missing. But why was the cargo of the ship left untouched? As the ship is brought into the harbour, Bailiff Simon Puttock’s thoughts turn to the owner’s rivals. Were the Lyme pirates involved in the attack, or did it originate closer to home?
Meanwhile Sir Baldwin de Furnshill arrives, charged by Bishop Stapleton to seek out a French spy, but it seems that the first person sent for that task, the Bishop’s nephew, didn’t do so well, as a body is found in a hole in the road. But no sooner has Baldwin started his investigations – aided by the new coroner, Sir Richard de Welles – a new face arrives in town, acting for the King’s advisers, the Despensers. Baldwin finds his loyalties torn between his King and the truth and he will need to tread carefully to avoid being branded a traitor to the crown – or worse…
Book 21 in whatever this series is called – let’s stick to The Knights Templar Mysteries despite there only being one such Knight – and to a certain degree, it’s a new start. Whereas the previous book dealt with the fate of a recurring character, here we start a new phase of Simon and Baldwin’s lives, as the upheaval that is afflicting the kingdom, as Edward II and the Despensers face civil war, led in part by Edward’s queen, Isabella, begins to draw them in, despite Baldwin’s best efforts. The recurring characters, such as our heroes’ families and servants, are absent from this tale, so it’s a great jumping on point for the series. This is underlined by the introduction of the new coroner – basically, if you’ve read Paul Doherty’s Athelstan mysteries, he’s cut from the same cloth as Sir John Cranston. And if you haven’t read those books, why on earth not? Unless you’ve been too busy reading these of course…
Michael has researched meticulously the period and he’s chosen to focus on the shipping trade in this one, as four men compete for trade in the same port. Oh, and we learn a little about the road-mender’s trade. And the life of an abjurer – someone who has sought sanctuary and has been made to leave the kingdom. And the political unrest of the time. Basically, there’s a whole bunch of history here – both at the national level and at the man-in-the-street level – but at no point does it feel that the reader is being lectured to.
Oh, this is a mystery blog, isn’t it? What about the mystery?
Almost perfect. And I’m only saying almost in case I missed something. Fairly clued with a clever false solution and you’ll still never spot what’s going on. Michael always produces a multi-faceted problem but this is one of his best. Both complex and simple, a really clever plot that will always have you looking the wrong way.
It’s a really odd feeling. One book into the month and I’m sure that I know where the Puzzly is going this month. Unless something even better comes along, but I’m not entirely sure how. This book is THAT good. A great jumping on point, rightly nominated for the Theakstons’ Old Peculiar Book Of The Year award. And obviously, it’s Highly Recommended.
In case I haven’t convinced you, here’s Michael to try: