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The Excalibur Murders
A Merlin Investigation - Book I

by J M C Blair

      If you are a fan of the Malloryesque mediaeval dreamworld approach to the Arthurian cycle and enjoy whodunits, then here is a new series that is aimed straight at you. Merlin insists that he is not a wizard, but an advocate of Reason, and is set against the superstitious paganism of King Arthurís court. He is assisted by young Colin, who is really Nimue in disguise, on the run from Morganís court, where she was about to be the reluctant half of an arranged marriage. Arthur is thrilled to discover the magical Stone of Bran, which he thinks will be a panacea for all ills that beset the court. But just after he has unveiled this marvel to his court, the Stone is stolen along with Excalibur. Left in their place is a very dead body; enter Merlin and Colin / Nimue to find out whodunit.

The Arthurian cycle can be likened to a lump of clay in that it is moldable into whatever shape the writer so chooses, and here we have an intriguing mixture. Mr Blair has obviously been reading Mark Twain and T H White (especially the former) with his semi-humorous but pessimistic view of a boisterous but disillusioned King Arthur, wicked Morgan, scheming Guinevere and brainless Lancelot. Having the court as pagans is an interesting twist, as are the murders themselves. You will have to wait some time before any actual detective work goes on as the two new sleuths get to grips with crime solving and how to best go about it. It is the sort of book that takes time to warm up and has the feel of a first book in what might well be a promising series, especially if Mr Blair proves to be at all adept at characterisation. This would seem to be a point in his favor so far, as familiar Arthurian characters develop some interesting personalities - the gloomy, misunderstood and scholarly Mordred might well be the most interesting. Losing a few of the "tennis match" conversations (think of Edward Marston) might also be a good plan. Stick with this, as it might be going somewhere.

The Book

Berkley Prime Crime (Penguin Group)
1 July 2008
0425222535 / 9780425222539
Fantasy / Mystery
More at US || UK
NOTE: Holiday read - Christmas

The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2008
© 2008