Date: November 2003
it at Amazon US
Historical Crime [1323 Scilly Isles]
Rachel A Hyde
Outlaws of Ennor
By Michael Jecks
When I pick
up one of Michael Jecks’ historical crime novels, I always
think that it is going to be cozy, like the vast majority of Ellis
Peters’ wannabes work, but this is not so. In the sixteenth
title in the long-running and surprisingly imaginative (not running
out of steam yet) Sir Baldwin Furnshill and his sidekick Simon Puttock
are on their way home from their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Neither is keen on long sea voyages, and this one proves worse than
usual when Breton pirates appear and then a mighty storm casts them
up on the Isles of Scilly. As each man is cast up on a different
island, each thinks the other is dead, but soon they have rather
more to worry about. Simon is commanded by the corrupt Ranulph de
Blancminster, who virtually owns the islands, to look into the murder
of his tax collector, while Baldwin is fighting off the attentions
of the lovely Tedia, who wants a divorce from her impotent husband.
On a set of islands far from the King’s Writ, populated mainly
by outlaws, pirates and other miscreants, the hapless pair have
their work cut out just staying alive.
In the past three or four books, Jecks
has allowed a Susannah Gregory vein of misplaced humor to permeate
his work, focussing especially on the unfortunate figure of Simon.
Maybe he has been reading my reviews, for all that has gone and
we are left with what remains, which is a jolly good story that
gives a convincing picture of the middle ages and carries its length
well. Sensibly, he paints a picture of a beautiful place spoiled
by its dodgy inhabitants, dangerous and far from any real law and
order where anything might happen. This is quite a page-turner plotwise,
perhaps a little longer than absolutely necessary, but not by much;
Jecks’ novels seem to get longer and longer for some reason.
Again too, it is Jecks’ ability to show us what makes his
characters tick yet still present them as being very evidently of
their time that is so laudable, and it is also interesting to read
about a part of the British Isles that does not normally feature
in books. Coupled with the impending shift from Lydford to Dartmouth
as a base, it shows that Jecks has that rare quality in writers--the
ability to change his books just enough to keep the whole thing
bubbling merrily, but not too much to alter them out of all recognition.
This is a trait many television script writers would do well to
emulate…it pays off, and makes his characters and their situations
seem more real and not just a series of loosely-linked episodes.
All rather praiseworthy, in fact.