By Roberta Gellis
Forge (Tom Doherty Associates) - September 2002
ISBN 0312875932 PB
Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde, MyShelf.com
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This is the second in Roberta Gellis' delightfully different and superbly-researched series about the crime-solving whoremistress, Magdalene la Batarde and her would-be lover, Sir Bellamy of Itchen, knight in the service of the Bishop of Winchester. This time the gentle blind girl, Sabina, has left the brothel to live with the man she loves, Mainard the saddler, over his shop. Mainard is a good, almost saintly, man who is cursed with a horribly birth-marked face and Bertrild, a shrewish wife who hates him. However somebody has murdered her right in front of Mainard's shop and he is the chief suspect. Magdalene and Bell must again join forces to help the lovers and find out exactly what the unlamented Bertrild was up to.
The first novel, A Mortal Bane, was a fine debut for the series, but in this second book the characters are really getting into their stride and the ambience is well established. The engaging haven of The Old Priory Guesthouse is well contrasted with the mean streets of mediaeval London and the political background is hinted at, but does not intrude into a story. Rather, it serves as a firm underpinning which is what makes these books appear so well-realized. The story neither rushes nor plods, taking time to introduce new characters, describe each scene in detail and immerse the reader in the setting. It combines historical crime with romance, although I feel that crime fans will find more here to enjoy than those looking for a tale of searing passion. In fact, the whodunit plot and history are spot on, whereas the too-good-to-be-true Mainard and his pining Sabina are less convincing. Gellis' keen sense of comedy keeps the tone buoyant and makes the whole a pleasant but not cozy read. If you are looking for a historical crime novel of the caliber of Ellis Peters or Sharon Newman then look no further. Highly enjoyable.
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