A Murder of Crows is, amongst fans of the genre, one of the most eagerly anticipated
historical mysteries in a long while. I run a site dedicated to the genre and am active in
a discussion group focused on it where plaintive pleas for a new Sir Robert Carey mystery
have been a standard since the print dried a decade ago on the last one. It’s here now, and
well worth the wait, although this is really more Sergeant Dodd’s story than Carey’s. This
is a great read in one of the more unique, well-written and well-researched series out there.
Sir Robert Carey was a real life historical figure, grandson of Henry VIII and "the other
Boleyn girl," his mistress Mary Boleyn (history is a bit less definite about Henry being his
biological grandfather than here). Most of this series is set on the Scots borders where he
was Warden of the Marches, but this book and the prior
Plague of Angels (also
Myshelf)—take place in London. Events in this book are largely an extension of those
from the prior one, making it that rare case where I’d strongly recommend reading the prior
book first. It’s not an absolute necessity, and it certainly doesn’t have to be the whole series,
but the plot here revolves around Dodd seeking revenge for his mistreatment in Angels
and I was much happier after I set aside Crows long enough to go back and re-read
Which is not to say that’s all there is to the story. Not even close. Marlowe and
Shakespeare make appearances as both poets and intriguers. Carey’s father may not think much
of his son’s ability to handle finances, but when he needs help with a murdered corpse in his
jurisdiction, he immediately turns to Sir Robert. There’s a whole range of twisting, turning
"change lobsters and dance" subplots around who is loyal to whom—no, who are they
really loyal to—for how long, and who they’ve been betraying and why in between.
Not to mention the chance to meet the one person who really scares Sir Robert, and all the
questions involving the lawyer who eagerly takes Dodd’s case when the threat of retribution
from on high has driven everyone else away.
The London setting is colorful, vividly real and overflowing with life. It also makes this
an easier read than some of the earlier books, to my mind, because it means use of Scots
dialect is limited to Dodd, while the other characters don’t all have similar sounding names
differentiated mainly by nicknames. Because the dialect is unique to Dodd, it’s also much more
effective as an aid to characterization, making it clear just how far from home he is in ways
that only begin with geography—a key element of his story here.
Highly recommended for a rollicking read that never stops and holds you rapt through every page.