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The Serpents of Harbledown
Doomsday Series, No 5
Edward Marston

St. Martins’ Press
1998/ ISBN 0312180217
Historical Mystery/ Sir Ralph Delchard/Gervase Bret / England-Middle Ages

Reviewed by L J Roberts

First Sentence: The search began at dawn.

The Royal Commission, including Sir Ralph Delchard and his bride Golde, travel to Canterbury in order to settle a land dispute between the archbishop and the prior of St. Augustine’s Abbey. Murder takes precedence over land; particularly the murder of a 17-year-old girl found with a snake bite on her neck and an apple, from which one bite was taken, in her hand. Followed shortly but the poisoning of a kind monk, Delchard and Gervase find themselves combating a cunning and dangerous adversary.

Books that include maps and one of Canterbury in the 11th Century are my kind of thing. I also appreciate books that make me think about things such as the difference between perception and reality, and allow me to learn—in this case about the Gnostics. Unfortunately, those were the major highlights of this entry into a series that is, otherwise, one of my favorites.

There were some definitely shortcomings here, including a small portent and a large coincidence. While I have generally felt Marston’s dialogue conveyed the period, here it seemed stilted. The descriptions of the action scenes felt awkward and less exciting than they should have been.

I have loved the characters of Ralph, Gervase and the two priests who accompany them, Canon Hubert and Brother Simon. Part of the reason why I’ve felt the characters worked so well was the interaction between them. Perhaps some of my disappointment with this book was that it seemed fragmented due to the union of the main characters being fragmented. There were very few instances of them working together.

Don’t misunderstand; I did not hate the book. The story definitely kept me reading and I was very glad it did. The insight into the period was strong, as always, and the honesty that any person may be good or bad, regardless of rank or position, is significant. In fact, one of the most chilling characters is not the killer. That element was very effective. Not one to give up on an otherwise favorite author, I am curious to read the next book in this series.

Reviewer's Note: More on Edward Marston's Series
Reviewed 2011
© 2011