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Publisher: Headline
Release Date: 2004
ISBN: 0755301749
Format Reviewed: Hardback
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Genre:   Historical Crime [1323 Cardinham, Cornwall, UK]
Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes:  

The Tolls of Death
By Michael Jecks

      Weary from their travels to Compostela and the Scilly Isles, Sir Baldwin Furnshill & his trusty sidekick Simon Puttock have arrived back in Britain. Thinking to rest in the remote Cornish village of Cardinham, they soon find themselves doing anything but. A woman has been found hanged in her house with the dead bodies of her two sons. People are quick to think that it was suicide, but it all seems rather suspicious. The Constable and his brother, the miller, fleece the inhabitants to line their own pockets and seem to run the village, and who is Warin the squire who has lately arrived with the long-departed Richer? More bodies will soon follow, and Baldwin and Simon are going to have their work cut out for them to sift truth from lies and gossip.

     Michael Jecks has finally shaken off the last traces of an inappropriate Susanna Gregory style of humor, so Baldwin and Simon are back to their sensible selves in this seventeenth book in the series. If you like the cozy Ellis Peters style, this might not appeal, for Jecks, even in his most irreverent moments, manages a grittiness and paints an uncompromising picture of this turbulent time. In this remote part of Britain, the politics of Edward II’s corrupt court still intrude and add a sense of period to what could have been just a story about a remote mediaeval village. This novel carries its quite considerable length well, and plot enthusiasts (like this reviewer) will find this book packed with incident and story, as a good whodunit should be.

I have enjoyed this series’ break from its usual situation on the edge of Dartmoor. It shows that Jecks has that rare quality in writers—an ability to change his books just enough and show us how the protagonists can grow and change just as real folk do. There are several long-running plotlines in these books that complement the stories and make the whole milieu a lot more convincing. I was left wanting more when I put the book down…all rather praiseworthy in fact.