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In The Presence of Evil
Christine de Pizan Mystery – Book I
BY Tania Bayard

Severn House
30 April 2018/ ISBN 9780727887887

Reviewed by  Rachel A Hyde

Paris 1393: Young widow Christine de Pizan works as a scribe at the palace to support her mother and three children. The king has spells of lunacy and everybody is trying to find a cure, many of which sound more like magic than medicine. A man bringing a mysterious book to the palace is found murdered and it is Christine who discovers his hidden body. Then the popular Hugues de Precy is found dead beside his wife Alix and everybody thinks that she has done the deed, but Christine discovers otherwise and must turn sleuth to prevent more deaths.

This is a debut for both the sleuth and the author and introduces the real-life character of the author and proto-feminist Christine de Pizan. Used to the grandeur and scheming of palace life but fallen on harder times since the death of her beloved husband, she is an ideal person to introduce us to an unfamiliar setting. The author paints a picture of a place where nobody is above suspicion and where the slightest thing can topple a person from favor and into the dungeons. Medicine is a discipline in its infancy and anybody brewing a potion treads a fine line between witchcraft and science. Christine must prove her friend innocent, keep her own head on her shoulders, protect and feed her family and forge a career as a woman in a man’s world. Fictional happenings are woven through historical ones and the whole makes for a compelling foray into a place and time not covered by many other novels, particularly historical mysteries. If Christine has another adventure I would like there to be less of an emphasis on her own ménage, of which we get to read rather a lot. The actual sleuthing starts comparatively late in the book and I wanted to read more about this and less about her superstitious mother and what the family is having to eat for dinner. This aside, it will be interesting to see how this historical figure’s life is woven into whatever adventures she faces in subsequent novels.

Reviewed 2018