By Sylvian Hamilton
Orion - 2001
ISBN 075283262X
Historical Crime
Early 13th century, various locations in England

Reviewed by: Rachel A Hyde,
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Sylvain Hamilton's first novel The Bone Pedlar mixed the irreverent comedy of Susanna Gregory with the supernatural horrors of P C Doherty and made an impressive, if slightly silly in parts, debut for this author. In this second book much of the dubious humor has gone and the more extravagant fantasy sequences and I am pleased to say that this is shaping up into a rather impressive, and certainly highly readable, new historical crime series. Once Sir Richard Straccan, ex-Crusader turned relic seller is on the trail of another prize for his master King John. This time it is the fabled banner that was once the property of King Arthur and contains a bloodstained cloth from the Crucifixion. Trouble is his archenemy Lord William de Breos is also after it and will stop at nothing to kill Richard and everybody who gets in his way to get it so he can ransom his beloved wife and son.

There is still more magic in this book than there ought to be but at least some of it can be explained away as mediaeval superstition, which is a nice touch - pity about the captive demon. Like the first novel the characters are lively and the plot never flags in what is not a short book. As with The Bone Pedlar this is really more of an adventure than a whodunit but as there are a lot of historical whodunits on the market and very few exciting adventure novels this is all to the good. Drop the supernatural shenanigans and book three will be almost up there with Doherty (almost). Highly entertaining.

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