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The Malice of Unnatural Death
Medieval West Country Mystery #23

by Michael Jecks

      Murder by magic? Yet that is what John of Nottingham is promising will happen, and he is not alone. He has been paid to assassinate Edward II and several other men close to him, but when his paymasterís plan is foiled, John is on the run. He winds up in Exeter, far enough away from the centers of power for him to be incognito - or is it? When the bodies of a bone carver and a kingís messenger are discovered, Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and his old friend the coroner Sir Richard de Welles are called to investigate. Meanwhile, Bailiff Simon Puttock has a spot of surveillance work of his own to do, keeping close to Brother John Busse, who might possibly be the next abbot of Tavistock Abbey. If he is, Simonís days in Dartmouth might come to an end at last, but first he and his friends have enough to keep them occupied in Exeter.

Here is a novel - the twenty-third in the series - not just full of mystery but plenty of real history too. Edward IIís disastrous reign is a good backdrop for a tale of murders and dark deeds, and Baldwin and Simonís rural lives are at last being touched by politics. The fact that many people believed that somebody could be killed by magic shows the vast gulf between now and then, setting this sometimes chatty series in perspective. I would have thought that Simon would have been terrified by all the magic, but he has changed again and is remarkably sanguine about it all, even treating us to a display of his bushcraft skills. It is hard to remember now, but this started out as a rather cozy series in a similar vein to Brother Cadfael, but not anymore, as Jecks has found his true voice after trying this and other styles (with varying effectiveness). Here is a long novel bursting with plot and incident that manages to fill its 400 pages admirably, with not too much repetition. There is the usual feeling of catching up with the news from our old friends, and Jecks knows how to give us a brand new story but spice it with plenty of updates on how his protagonistsí lives are going on. This is a strong series that gets stronger, with ingenious, thought-provoking stories that carry on pleasing. If the ending is anything to go by, this series is about to become even more historical...

The Book

4 December 2006
Historical Crime - 1324 Devon, UK
More at US || UK
NOTE: Some Violence

The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2007
© 2006