April 1555, and Jack Blackjack has managed to find a way to make his career as assassin to Sir John Blount work – namely by subcontracting any work sent his way. All he currently wants to do is bed a young woman who is looking for some guidance as a confidence trickster, while avoiding her rather aggressive gentleman friend. That would normally be enough to cause trouble for Jack, but things are going to get much worse for him. Two rather aggressive money lenders have him in their sights (despite him not actually borrowing money from them) and he’s been accused of the murder of a vicar.
Dragged to the village of St Botolph, Jack finds himself roped into a treasure hunt by an old friend/enemy but before he can do that, he might just have to find the real murderer. But with his enemies closing in, and his own personal fortune at stake, playing detective might be the last thing he wants to do…
The fourth title in Michael Jecks’ highly enjoyable Bloody Mary Tudor series – although it’s worth pointing out that Mary Tudor is barely mentioned in this one. Whatever causes the casual browser to take a look at the book, I guess, but how about an intelligent, informed, unbiased review instead?
Well… that might be a bit difficult. Michael is a friend-of-the-blog, and lovely bloke that he is, has dedicated this book to me. I’ve been reviewing Mike’s work for ages, often chat to him via the Interweb and stole a lot of his free time at last year’s Alibis In The Archive, and it’s fair to say that I love his work. In general, his books contained a complex mystery that twists all over the place while painting a stunning picture of time and place. This one is, of course, no different.
Treat this review as biased if you like, but this is a great book. The Jack Blackjack series is more light-hearted in its voice than the Templar series, but that doesn’t stop it from addressing some very serious topics. Mike will usually pick one aspect of history to tie the story around – in this case, the fact that when Mary took the throne and re-catholicised England, married priests were given the choice to abandon their family or abandon the church, a choice that would tear either a community or a family apart. The murder victim in this case chose the church, but his abandoned family chose to remain close by, a situation that beautifully sets up a variety of motives for murder.
The events surrounding the murder are nicely complex, with some real echoes of the classic mystery – the body was seeming stabbed while naked, redressed and then stabbed eight more times, before being moved at least once – and the narrative doesn’t shy away from the actions that people were forced to take to survive, even at times giving a grudging sense of acceptance in Jack’s narrative to actions that we would consider unacceptable today. Modernising a past character’s attitudes is all too common in historical fiction and while Jack is still, basically, a good… well, not bad person, he does seem to come from that period of time, with the attitudes to match.
The murder tale is split around Jack’s attempts to help a pair of young con artists (for purely personal reasons) and the money-lenders attempts to either get their ever-increasing debt or to cut of Jack’s balcocks with an eye-wateringly sharp set of shears – but these events are interwoven to make a complete tale. Every mystery writer is allowed one massive coincidence to drive the plot forward (and there is a massive one here), but it serves the plot well, adding a cohesion to the tale.
In summary, this is a great example of the historical mystery. Let me add in my normal plea at this point – if you are one of those people who tried a Cadfael and got put off the historical mystery for life, please think again. There are a wealth of books out there, great mysteries and great reads that you are missing out on. This is one of those books.
Availability: The Dead Don’t Wait is out on July 31st from Severn House – check out your local library if it’s a little pricey for you. And – good news – the first Jack Blackjack book, Rebellion’s Message will be out from Black Thorn Books in paperback in December.