Sens, France, 1096, and Peter the Hermit stands in the town square, talking to the townspeople of Jerusalem, of the city of Christ that needs to be liberated from the heathen Saracens, of the heavenly rewards that await those who free the city.
Benet and Sybille, husband and wife, he a reckless gambler who sees only opportunity, she a loyal wife who has no option but to accompany him; Odo and Fulk, two brothers, one seeing an opportunity to prove his piety, one seeing an opportunity for excitement; Jeanne and Guillemette, workers at the local brothel, both seeing a chance for redemption – the group of pilgrims heading to Jerusalem is a mix of personalities and motivations. But the road is long and hard – and not everyone will make it. And those who do – what will be the cost to them?
Wow, it takes an age to get to the murder – there’s lots of killing, but the actual murder is at least 80% of the way into the book. And we get told straight away who did it? Blimey, Michael, you’ve lost your touch there, mate…
[CHECKS TWEET FROM THE AUTHOR]
Oh, it’s not a mystery. Silly me.
Just in case anyone reading has a sense of humour failure, I knew full well going into this one that it wasn’t a mystery novel. I’ve read a grand total of one such book over the past seven blog years, namely Blood Of The Innocents by… yup, Michael Jecks, and he was nice enough to send me a copy of Pilgrim’s War, the first in a trilogy concerning the Crusades – technically, the first Crusade – even more technically, I think, the first Crusade of the first Crusade. Now my knowledge of the Crusades goes like this, thanks to the History syllabus from my school over thirty years ago, is basically… um… Richard I got kidnapped by Leopold of Austria on the way back from one of them, where he fought Saladin. Oh, and a time-travelling foursome in a blue box got involved, although I’m not sure that’s strictly factual. So, my knowledge of the Crusades is pretty minimal, so I was looking forward a lot to this one.
It didn’t disappoint. I’ve always praised Michael for his character work in his mysteries and that’s the case here too. The characters all have their distinctive motivations and personalities, feeling like convincing portrayals of people from the time and yet still being characters that you can understand. It’s a trick that can be difficult to pull off and the author does it with aplomb.
He also does an exceptional job of keeping the action moving. It’ll be no surprise that as the first part of a trilogy, Jerusalem isn’t even on the horizon by the end of the book, and yet this feels like a complete story by itself. By the end of the book, the characters are all in very different places from where they started (and not just geographically), those that make it to the end of the book, that is, and it’s going to be a long wait to see where their paths take them next. There are some genuine shocks along the way – the aforementioned murder, for example, is particularly horrifying, not in the description but in how it comes about… one of the most chilling depictions of insanity (which puts it mildly) that I’ve read.
So, dear reader, if you fancy an occasional change from the murder mystery genre, or you’re a fan of Michael’s mysteries – and if you haven’t tried them, go and read The Sticklepath Strangler or The Leper’s Return – then you could do a lot worse than to give this a try. Highly Recommended.