December 1668, and snow has fallen all around. In particular, it has fallen around the body of George Barwell, a carpenter of the village of Clavershall West. Lying on the ground with his face clawed off, whispers say is that it is the work of the devil. And whispers can become accusations so very easily…
Alice Mardike has always had a reputation, mostly for healing minor ailments around the village. But when the village becomes aware that she was asked to curse Barwell, the suspicion and fear that has been brewing now has a focus. Determined to prove her innocence – after all, there are no such thing as witches, are there? – John Grey, the new lord of the manor, investigates. But witch hunts are dangerous things – sometimes even evidence isn’t enough to convince people…
The fifth John Grey historical mystery, following A Cruel Necessity, A Masterpiece Of Corruption, The Plague Road and Fire. Formerly an agent of government powers, John Grey has now apparently settled down, with his wife and a baby son, but the responsibilities of the Lord of the Manor are tricky. Representing the wishes of the people of the village when those wishes contradict everything you believe – such as evidence, common sense, etc – is a tricky balancing act, and Len Tyler uses this wonderfully well in this absorbing mystery tale.
Len creates a strong cast of suspects, and uses the witch-hunt to add a level of complexity to the plot and characterisation to this tale, which is still, at heart, a whodunit. And despite the darkness at the heart of the tale, the author still finds time for his trademark sense of humour. The resolution to the tale is satisfying on both a plot-based and an emotional level, as you’d expect from the author.
I’ve always been a fan of Len’s work ever since discovering the Ethelred and Elsie series, but fans of that series really should try the John Grey books, if they haven’t already. A strong protagonist – well, two if you count Amita, his childhood sweetheart – and complex plots steeped in the history of the period, a time when England went through a variety of upheavals – basically King, War, no King, Restoration with an added dash of Plague and Fire – and a dash of humour combine to produce one of the strongest series of historical mysteries out there, of which this is one of the finest entries in the series. Highly Recommended.
Many thanks to Constable for the review copy.
Availiability: Released as hardback and ebook on 27th December 2018. Due in paperback in October 2019.