She Moved Through The Fair (2017) by Susanna M Newstead

1204, Marlborough Castle, and Sir Aumary Belvoir, under-constable of the castle has a problem to deal with. The 16 year old Matilda de Neville is to marry the nobleman Guy de Saye, despite neither of them being particularly keen on the match. Belvoir is in the room under Matilda’s chambers when he hears a commotion upstairs. He thinks nothing of it – until blood begins to drip through the ceiling.

With both Matilda and Guy slain and the door locked from the inside, the locals suspect witchcraft, but Belvoir is convinced of a link between their deaths and another, that of a painter outside of the castle. But other concerns within the area begin to distract him…

One of my decisions this year was to look at more historical fiction novels and this seemed ideal, springing into my Amazon suggestions after I took a look at a far-too pricey academic tome on medieval mysteries.

This is the second of (currently) nine books in the series, with the loose theme of events that could have inspired English folk songs, which is a rather nice idea. The central characters are well thought out, the tale being one of Belvoir’s reminiscences of his youth, occasionally interrupted by comments to his scribe, often apologising for a description of violence, or apologising for his unconventional (i.e. modern) views on certain practices.

Some leeway has to be given to the author, I suppose, as these seem to be all-but self-published, and I’m guessing not proof-read, as there are a fair few rogue bits of punctuation and a couple of odd phrases. One, for example, from Belvoir’s inner voice refers to our King’s father being Henry II, but as he is telling the tale subsequent to King John’s reign, he should be referring to the current King’s grandfather. It just struck me as odd.

What is less forgivable, though, is the stunningly obvious solution to the mystery. I’ve deliberately omitted one aspect of the crime, as I expect some of my readers to be able to solve it if I describe the situation fully. It would work in a short story, but the very fact that nobody suggests the obvious solution makes the reader convinced that the solution is the correct one. It would work as a short story, but stretching it to novel length just made this reader impatient.

And I wasn’t too impressed by a subplot concerning a fire-and-brimstone preacher. To clarify, I did enjoy this aspect of the story, probably more that the central “mystery”, until it is revealed at the end to merely be a set-up to the mystery in the third book. I understand the desire to bring the reader back for more, but devoted at least one quarter of the book to a subplot that doesn’t get resolution here is annoying.

Oddly, I am intrigued to try a later book in the series at some point to see how the author’s writing has matured, but this book really can’t be recommended in isolation, I’m afraid. Has anyone else read this series at all?

[I should point out that this book has 22 5/5 ratings on Amazon, so I may be in a minority here…]

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