THE ELEPHANTS OF NORWICH
by Edward Marston
Headline (Hodder Headline) - 2000
ISBN: 074727410X - Hardcover
Reviewed by Rachel Hyde,
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This is the eleventh of the Domesday Books mysteries featuring Domesday Commissioners Ralph Delchard and Gervase Bret and their entourage. Now they are heading for Norwich, a city that suffered hardly during the conquest and whose Saxon inhabitants still harbor a grudge against their Norman overlords. Given that two of these are the fierce robber barons Richard de Fontenel and his bitter rival Mauger Livarot it is hardly surprising and as the commissioners ride into the city these two are also rivals in love, competing for the hand of the lovely but scheming widow lady Adelaide. Richard thinks that he has a lead on his rival as he has procured for her two priceless golden elephants, knowing that the lady cannot resist jewels but before he can present her with them they are stolen. Has his steward stolen them for Mauger, or is it another of his many enemies? And where does disinherited Saxon lady Olova fit in? The trusty pair have their work cut out for them, especially as Gervase has now been joined by his wife the delicate Alys – is she up to lending a hand in the manner of Golde?
If you are a fan of Brother Cadfael and Sister Frevisse then you will surely enjoy this latest foray into mediaeval murders. Marston has a nice light touch with the facts of mediaeval life that rings true but does not swamp the story. I felt that this tale stronger than some of the others as the brutality of the warring barons lent a welcome verisimilitude to a normally over-cozy scenario. Having the commissioners’ wives lending a hand makes for a politically correct tale but a historically incorrect one and I would like to feel more of the seething atmosphere of the newly conquered country as Saxons and Normans co-exist uneasily – a lot more uneasily than Marston shows. He does serve up a nicely paced story though with amiable (if a little modern-seeming) characters and a story that is teasing enough without being as baffling as it might have been given a bit more plotting on the author’s part. A good, entertaining read without being outstanding.
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