Jason Vail is in danger of transforming from a speculative e-author into a bona fide murder mystery writer. “The Wayward Apprentice” and the next three Stephen Attebrook novels have shown a rapidly maturing writing style, plot complexity, historical understanding, and intriguing sense of mystery. All set in the time of King Henry III of England – not bad for a writer from Florida.
I came to these novels fairly early in Vail’s publishing of them and I have to say they are affable novels where the author has understood quickly that you need both a flawed sleuth and a rotund, sharp-tongued yet utterly loyal sidekick – Gilbert Wistwode in this case. It’s something that works perfectly for the likes of Susanna Gregory and worked for Ellis Peters. It works here.
Our foot-maimed Deputy Coroner, a man with a pervasive sense of conscience and a desire for the truth, finds himself investigating the frozen dead teenage beauty outside Saint Laurence’s churchyard. As Vail’s resident humorist, Harry, remarks: “Nice day for finding corpses in the churchyard.”. Whilst the inhabitants of Ludlow are falling all over themselves in commercial haste to profit off a new “saint”, Stephen finds himself heading back towards Clun – where the action of the last novel occurred – to wrap up the mystery of seven dead people. A mystery set in the last novel, but never followed up by Vail till now. This time the head of the dead family – Adam Saltehus – wants to know who killed them. Lady Margaret reappears (“Baynard’s List”) when Stephen heads to Shrewsbury and also tasks him with finding the bandits who are robbing and murdering from four of her associates – Bromptone included, another character reappearing from “A Dreadful Penance”.
What follows is a foray into archery, banditry, thuggery, brutish lords and nasty henchmen. Stephen suffers beatings, tip toes around darkened village, towns and small castles… all in an effort to trace a dandelion emblem on a salt barrel and a cursed ring. With the denouement in a carriage there is a sad confession and an understanding that “the heart is such a odd thing, it goes where it wills and can cause all manner of trouble when not properly disciplined.”
All manner of trouble is precisely what Stephen is good at solving and Jason Vail is turning into a rather remarkable murder mystery writer.
Review by travelswithacanadian
8.3/10 from 1 reviews
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