I must say I am delighted to have found Jason Vail. His opener – “The Wayward Apprentice” – was a well crafted medieval mystery and this sequel is equally as palatable.
Following immediately on from the close of the first novel, the list that was key to solving the murder in the opening novel pops up within pages. The King’s judge, Valence, has heard of the list naming dissidents against King Stephen’s rule and wants it. Our sleuth and part-time hero, Sir Stephen Attebrook, missed a trick when he left it in Baynard study and his attempt to reclaim it is too slow as it disappears just before Baynard’s ex-butler, Muryet, is found dead at the bottom of Mistress Webbere’s staircase.
Clement has a more prominent role in this novel, Stephen dismayed to find he is under the jurisdiction of Valence and charged with locating the list. In the meantime, the newly widowed Olivia Baynard has her cousin Margaret in town whose blatant seduction of our Coroner has a faint whiff of collusion. Stephen realises that to find the List he must find the murderer of Muryet. With Valence holding his son Christopher against his continued investigation he swiftly uncovers a mess of relationships in the town which culminates in further murders. Someone is two steps ahead of Gilbert and Stephen, killing any witnesses who have had possession of Baynard’s List. An inevitable terrible denouement with our sleuth demonstrating his sword skills brings us literally full circle to a water butt, a chest and a sadness of deception that engenders some pathos for Stephen.
Vail is good. His hero is likeable, his mystery kept simple, the assorted cast of characters plausible. The thirteenth century sketch of Ludlow, England shows an author who has some knowledge of the period but doesn’t choose to drop into wishful descriptions that can be criticised by those who know the period in some detail. I’d draw a parallel to Susanna Gregory and Ellis Peters but we need a few more stories from the pen of this US author before any true comparisons can be made. If we can just remove the odd drop into “americanisms” in the text: “knocking him into a puddle on his fanny and producing a brown splash” (pg74 Kindle) then the odd jolting unrealism will disappear and these books will convince the reader of the period and place we are meant to be in.
I’m glad I found Vail – quite by chance – he’s got a new fan here. Hope to see more.
Review by travelswithacanadian
Gillian from UK
Once again I cannot fault the story or characters but again the misuse of words for that period in history did stop me from scoring higher. Again the proof reading was abysmal. I still look forward to the next book as regardless of the mistakes, it is still compulsive reading. As a avid reader of historical novels, I do get some knowledge of language and use of words for certain periods in history so it does niggle just a little to see the wrong words used.
8/10 from 2 reviews