1325 and danger is lurking everywhere. Sir Hugh Despenser, the power behind the throne of Edward II, has found a way to get even with his enemies, Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and Bailiff Simon Puttock, by striking at their very homes. But Baldwin and Simon are about to be dragged away from protecting their families – Edward’s son is to be sent to France to try and negotiate a peace and to help persuade Edward’s wife to return to England, and Baldwin and Simon are to accompany him.
But danger is awaiting on the streets of Paris. A stranger has been murdered in the Louvre itself and a power struggle has begun in the Parisian underworld. The King of Thieves has an uprising on his hands and bodies are surfacing left, right and centre. As Baldwin arrives in Paris, he finds himself pulled into the investigation. But when the finger points to someone in the King’s party, Baldwin must find the truth of the matter…
Book 26 of the Knights Templar series – only five and the prequel left to go, hence my slowing down with the series. I want to savour these. Having said that, the style of story has changed a little over the past few books, as our heroes get thrust into the circle of Edward II and the documented events of history. As such, there is only so much of a murder plot that can be added into the story and the recent books have felt more like espionage tales rather than murder mysteries. I’m sure this was a deliberate choice on Michael’s part, but while I still really enjoyed these books, I did prefer the earlier books. So while I knew I’d enjoy this one, I approached it with an unnecessary degree of trepidation.
There was no need. This is a truly outstanding book. Possibly my favourite of the series to date, and if you’ve read the previous 25 reviews, you’ll know how high praise that is.
First off, the mystery plot is a crime story with plenty of questions and misdirection all over the place. While possibly not classically structured, there is so much going on, between the King of Thieves, his disgraced lieutenant, the dubious characters in the staff of the Louvre… all the characters are beautifully developed with distinct characters and motivations, but at no point does that character-building get in the way of the story. Trying to work out who did what to whom will make your head spin. And the descriptions of life in the Paris underworld – and indeed the investigators – leap off the page. There are a couple of scenes that will make the casual reader wince, but never does it feel out of place or unnecessary.
Meanwhile, the politics of the story are utterly enthralling, based for the most part around the characters’ various decisions around loyalty to a King who seems intent on leading his country to disaster. There are some scenes, such as the conversation between Baldwin and Sir Henry, that seemed so heartfelt – some of Michael’s best writing, in my opinion. Along with a scene right at the end that I can’t possibly spoil but that almost brought a tear to my eye for a character who certainly didn’t deserve it.
Is there anything negative to say? Well, at one point Baldwin is talking about the dogs that he used to have and he didn’t mention Chops, the star of The Leper’s Return. Disgraceful.
A truly outstanding novel, a perfect marriage of history and mystery. Needless to say, this is Highly, Highly Recommended.