The Merchant Murderers (2022) by Michael Jecks

August 1556, Devon. Jack Blackjack had recently fled London, but found the moors of the south-west to be even less hospitable. On discovering that it was now safe to return to his life of luxury and occasional peril, he heads back to the capital, only to find himself stranded in Exeter. Unable to find a horse, Jack does manage to find a number of new people who would like to stick a knife in him, and, of course, a dead body.

Jack only wants one thing – to leave Exeter at the first opportunity. When the opportunity is finally dangled under his nose, little does he realise that he is walking into a trap. Can Jack possibly make it back to London in one piece? And in the process, will he discover who killed the unfortunate merchant?

This is the seventh Jack Blackjack historical thriller from the pen of Michael Jecks, the tale of a Queen’s assassin who hasn’t actually killed anyone. “Thriller” is probably the best word for it, as by calling it a mystery, especially around here, might cause some people to read it with expectations that might lead to disappointment. The thing is, it’s hard to write an out-and-out mystery when the lead character has no interest in being a sleuth and not much ability in that direction either. When everything is told in Jack’s entertaining voice and he isn’t particularly interested in anything apart from his own skin – and possibly the skin of some of the more attractive ladies in his vicinity – the structure of a classic mystery is next to impossible to maintain. So Michael Jecks doesn’t even try.

What we get is a thrilling tale of Jack trying to stay one step ahead of murderous merchants, robbers, husbands and the local Dean while the murder mystery resolves itself in the background. Anyone who has read any of Mike’s work before will know the detail that he paints his world in. Tudor Exeter is not a place that you will want to visit, but that’s because it is brought so vividly to life. The characters are rather wonderful too. It’s a challenge, I think, to create a fully-formed cast of characters in a book told in the first person, as you can’t easily get inside their heads, but it’s a skill that the author certainly has. The character arcs seem natural, and while I did have hopes that one character might have become a regular in the series at the end of the tale, it’s hard to grumble when you get this invested in a story.

So, don’t go in expecting a fully clued mystery – not sure how Jack could gather all the suspects together as they’d probably all gang up and try and kill him – but embrace the fun, the danger, the history, the twists and turns and the wonderful narrative voice, and you’ll have a real treat on your hands.

Oh, but don’t get excited by “A Bloody Mary Tudor Mystery” as, well, she isn’t in it. In fact, she’s hardly in the series at all…

The Jack Blackjack series:

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