1326, and Edward II is not remotely happy. His queen, Isabella, refuses to leave France with her son, and when Sir Baldwin Furnshill and Simon Puttock return from France with the news, they are summarily dismissed from court and sent back to Devon. Not that this is a problem for the two men, as it is a chance to reunite with their families, but Devon – indeed, England itself – is not the country they left.
With Sir Hugh Despenser’s influence growing in the land, his followers are growing in power, seizing opportunities to further their wealth and ambitions regardless of the consequence to others. But when a camp of travellers is slaughtered and then the local bailiff suffers the same fate, it seems that Baldwin and Simon must try and enforce the law in a lawless land. But there are other concerns as well – Despenser has plans for Simon’s daughter and soon a wedge will be driven between the two friends, causing a split that may never be repaired…
Book Twenty-Seven of the Templar Series from blog-favourite Michael Jecks, and I’ll warn you, this isn’t a traditional murder mystery. It’s more a who’s doing what, rather than whodunit, and even then, at the end of the day, the motives of the villain seem rather basic, despite the consequences of their act that reverberate throughout the book. No, this is much more like an historical crime story, almost a procedural, despite there being few procedures to follow in this era of history.
The investigations are engrossing, as Simon and Baldwin are assisted by a couple of familiar faces to fans of the series, but it’s the character work that makes this book stand out. We get to spend some significant time with Edith, Simon’s daughter, as she… well, spoilers, but her situation as first her husband is arrested and then… again, spoilers, is gripping and moving at the same time. This strand is nicely coupled with an arc for a character that I never thought I would care about, but found myself completely caught up in his fate.
There are other strands – the story of Agnes, the widow of the murdered bailiff, Brother Mark, a monk from Tavistock caught up in events, the various tales of fathers and children – even the relationship between the immoral Sir Robert de Traci and his son Basil – that kept me absolutely gripped.
This is an outstanding book – not a traditional mystery, but all the better for not trying to lever such a plot into a landscape that would have difficulty sustaining it. I don’t think it’s the best place to start for the series, but it’s a deeply satisfying read regardless. Highly Recommended.
Here are Michael’s thoughts on the book: