THE AWFUL SECRET by Bernard Knight
Simon & Schuster - 2000
ISBN: 0684860686 - Hardback

Reviewed by Rachel Hyde, MyShelf.Com
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Crowner John is not a lucky man.  He is recovering from a broken leg after his horse fell on him in the last book and is unhappily married to the waspish Matilda.  He doesn’t even get paid for his onerous job – Coroner (or Crowner as it was called in 1195) for the whole of Devon.  Yet he and his trusty sidekicks Gwyn the tough, hairy Cornish henchman and creeping but intelligent clerk Thomas de Peyne manage between them to deliver the goods.  In this fourth outing for the trio mysterious ex-Templar Gilbert de Rideford is on the run from his order and he wants John to hide him.  He has an awful secret to disclose but not until later – however “later” never comes for he is murdered.  Now not only does John have to find out whodunit but also put a stop to the pirates of Lundy who are menacing shipping and fend off not only three vengeful Templars and a Papal envoy but come to terms with what his own faith means to him when it is shaken to its foundations by that eponymous awful secret.

12th century Devon is brought to noisy, smelly, vital life in this book that comes complete with helpful maps and a glossary of unusual words and terms.  His characters are a lively bunch but fortunately Knight hasn’t made the mistake that too many other historical novelists make and drawn them as being modern folk in tunics and hose. They are perhaps a shade more politically correct than they might have been to make them likeable but not too much to make them unbelievable.  The secret seems far-fetched but as the note at the back tells the reader it is based on truth and several sources are given for further information.  In short reading this book was a satisfying experience and I would recommend it as a worthy addition to the growing list of mediaeval whodunits.

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