Falconer And The Face Of God (1996) by Ian Morson

Christmas, 1268, and a troupe of entertainers has come to Oxford. It seems the ideal venue for a Mystery Play, given that the King, Henry III, is going to be spending Christmas in the city, and where the King goes, people will follow. People who will help make money for the players.

But tensions are running high, both within the players’ ranks and without, as people try to find the best way to take advantage of the monarch’s visit. But when a monk is killed, an attack apparently meant for the leader of the players, William Falconer, the Regent Master of Aristotle’s Hall at the University is once again given the chance to demonstrate his sleuthing prowess. When he’s not looking for alchemists, that is…

I read the first two Falconer books a good while ago, when my historical mystery fascination was at it’s height. I really liked the first one, and the second one was okay. Not good enough, however, to make me fork out for expensive copies of the by-then out of print titles that made up the series. But the other day, armed with a gift card – thank you, dear students – I discovered that the entire Falconer series was a fiver on Kindle. So I figured, why not?

And this one… is more like the second. It’s okay, with some strong sections, but also some weak ones. First of all, the alchemist bit just seems odd. The story is split between the players, Falconer’s alchemy stuff and the local priest who is determined to impress the King. The players are by far the most interesting characters and the central core of their story is really rather nice. I was less interested in the city stuff, so when that eventually starts becoming more important, I felt that I hadn’t been paying attention.

It’s also a bit weird that Morson is determined to do a very traditional gather-the-suspects scene at the end that just felt a bit out of place. Peter Tremayne did it in the early Fidelma books, but that made a little more sense as she was inevitably conducting a trial. Here, it just seems to be because that’s what they do in mystery novels and the overlap with the modern mystery structure just seemed a little heavy-handed.

There are clues here, to be fair, but I did struggle with this one – and one aspect of the misdirection, I felt was disappointing.

All in all, I’ll be back at some point as I’ve got six more books in the compendium. But this wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.

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