The Ruffler’s Child (2002) by John Pilkington

Thomas Finbow has put most of his past behind him – he has been a soldier and hunter, but now he is a widowed single father and a falconer, on the Berkshire estate of Sir Robert and Lady Margaret Vicary. Life is fairly calm and sedate until one hunt, when Lady Margaret’s obnoxious brother is found dead. Initially assumed to have been killed by a passing bear, it soon becomes clear that he was shot in the back by a crossbow, by an assassin smart enough to remove the bolt.

As a distraction, Lady Margaret, with Thomas to protect her, travels to London to put some affairs in order, but trouble is waiting for them both. There are dark secrets in Margaret’s past and the death of her brother was just the beginning. It falls to Thomas to bring those secrets to the surface if he has any hope of saving his mistress – or himself.

John Pilkington has written a number of historical crime series – I hesitate to use the word mystery – of which this one, consisting of seven books was, I think the first. I was on the prowl for another new historical mystery writer as part of my plan this year to expand my reading in this genre, one that I’ve enjoyed a lot in the past, and I’d enjoyed the one title of John’s that I’d read before – After The Fire.

And to echo a theme from more than half of my reviews this month – I’m rather divided on this one, and for the same reason as for some of the other books. It’s an entertaining read, and there are secrets to be discovered by Thomas the Falconer – just not by the reader.

It’s a thriller, not a mystery. As I said, it’s a good read, with some strong characters, but it’s the story of Thomas running around London, getting into and out of trouble while putting the pieces together as to why the main villain in the city is plotting… something. The mystery here is what the villain is plotting and Margaret’s secret, not who killed her brother.

The series has potential, and the book does a good job of putting the characters into place. I’ll probably be back for more, either from the series or from one of the author’s more recent books, but if you want a whodunit, you’ll have to look somewhere else.

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