Ordeal by Fire by Sarah Hawkswood

Worcester, 1143, and a series of fires have caught the attention of Serjeant Catchpoll. The first fire at a silversmith’s, while suspicious, is written off as an accident, but when a second soon follows, and a corpse is found in the smouldering remains, it becomes clear that not only are the fires deliberate but they are being started by a vicious murderer.

Catchpoll calls in the new undersheriff, Hugh Bradecote, to try and hunt down the killer. With two different styles of investigation, they soon unearth a number of secrets amongst the merchants of Worcester. But as a hooded figure stalks the night and the fires continue to burn, they need to decide which of the many secrets hides the truth behind the murders…

When I was doing my Review Of The Year, I realised that I had done very little last year in the way of seeking out new historical mystery fiction, so I decided this year that I’d try and seek out some new authors. After all, I’ve basically done the entire Doherty back catalogue, give or take, and there aren’t too many of Michael Jecks’ Templar books left for me. Still got a few of the Sister Fidelma to go, but it’s time to try something new. I picked this one recently as the third in a “3 for £5” from that UK edifice of literature provision, The Works. Actually, to be fair, I’ve picked up a fair number of decent books from The Works – always work a look for a bargain.

Anyhow, how does this one stack up? Well… on the plus side, I did like the lead characters. The contrasting characters of Catchpoll and Bradecote, very much the solid policeman and thoughtful detective archetypes from modern fiction, but with both of them being useful sleuths, rather than the “Lewis” one just being a dogsbody.

But the sleuths alone don’t make a good mystery, and I was never engaged by the various suspects in the tale or, to be honest, in the tale itself. And one particular sequence about two thirds through the tale couldn’t have signposted the murderer more clearly if he’d put on a “I DID IT!” T-shirt.

And… this is always a bugbear with me with historical mysteries. It’s set in 1143 because we are told that. There’s no sense of time here beyond “medieval” and you think, given that England was in the middle of a CIVIL WAR between Stephen and Mathilda, it just might have come up at some point…

So, it started promisingly, but ending up falling flat for me. A shame.

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