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review 2017-08-10 13:28
The Merchant's Tale by Ann Swinfen
The Merchant's Tale (Oxford Medieval Mysteries Book 4) - Ann Swinfen
I look forward to each addition to Swinfen's Oxford mysteries series, and this installment did not disappoint. Occurring just weeks after The Huntsman's Tale , the story of lovable Nicholas Elyot carries on seamlessly. Now we find ourselves returned to Oxford in time for the St Frideswide's Fair, where some people have nefarious deeds in mind.

Nicholas is emboldened enough to begin pressing his suit with the lovely Emma and I felt the squeeze of my heart just as I would if two people I personally knew were finally discovering that they were perfect for one another. Mild mannered Nicholas proved that he can be a charming romantic at times, such as when convincing Emma that he would walk her home. 'There is no need, Nicholas. I shall be quite safe with the others.' 'You will be even safer with me.' Be still my heart.

I am also enjoying the development of other characters and relationships. For example, it is fun watching Nicholas' daughter Alysoun become a young woman. 'Alysoun looked pleased and slightly smug, finding herself part of Margaret's armed forces against the incompetent world of men.'

If it takes Nicholas and his comrades ridiculously long to determine just who could be the target of a mysterious murderer using the fair as his cover, this can be forgiven because the reader is treated to more exquisite views of daily life in 14th century Oxford. The challenges of gathering fruit and preparing food, the excitement and dangers of the fair, the struggles of a business owner falling under the rules of the Church, and much more make this novel a joy to read for the way it truly transports the reader back in time.

This is a series that is put at the top of my TBR as soon as a new book is released. I wonder when book 5 will be arriving, because I don't believe for a moment that Nicholas is 'once again a humble Oxford bookseller and glad to be done with high drama.' I have a feeling that mysterious events will find you again, dear Nicholas.
 

 

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review 2017-07-28 15:19
The Huntsman's Tale by Ann Swinfen
The Huntsman's Tale (Oxford Medieval Mysteries) (Volume 3) - Ann Swinfen
I love pretty much everything about this series. Nicholas Elyot is a charming protagonist who loves his friends, his children, and his books. The setting of Oxford and the surrounding area following the plague that decimated the population allows for wonderful exploration into how the people remaining were impacted. And just look at those gorgeous covers!

This third installment in Swinfen's Oxford Medieval Mysteries did not disappoint, though there are still plenty of questions left that led me to download The Merchant's Tale as soon as it was released. I NEED to know if Nicholas finds love again. The dear man has spent long enough in mourning.

We are taken away from the city of Oxford for this adventure, but Nicholas brings most of the existing cast of characters with him to assist on his family's farm for the harvest. It was fun to see these men of learning getting their hands dirty and blistered, and I was amazed at how interesting the author made detailed descriptions of medieval farming. Despite the difficult work, this would seem to be a time of fellowship and feasting if it weren't for a pesky murder.

The local lord, no more able to protect himself or his family from the black death than the common man has been replaced by an arrogant upstart who believes the villagers are his to rule with an iron fist. When he is killed during a village hunt, it is difficult to determine who would not have wanted to kill him. Nicholas, scholar and bookseller, finds himself part of another investigation that leads down paths he could not have anticipated.

This book, like the two that precede it, is a fun, quick read packed with all sorts of interesting history, characters the reader can cheer for, and a mystery that becomes more than one might be expecting. I will be picking up book 4 immediately!
 

 

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review 2017-01-31 20:57
Corpse Candle
Corpse Candle - Paul Doherty

England, early 14th century

 

'It was murder, wasn't it?' Ranulf asked sitting down on a stool.

'Murder, and a cunning one,' Corbett agreed. 'But proving it and discovering the assassin will be difficult. We are going to have to poke with a long, sharp stick. In many ways Abbot Stephen was a strange man. Oh, he was holy enough and learned but self-contained and mysterious; a knight-banneret who decided to become a priest. A soldier who decided to hunt demons.'

'Demons!' Ranulf exclaimed.

Corbett smiled thinly. 'Yes, Ranulf, our late Abbot was an officially appointed exorcist. Abbot Stephen would be called to assist with people who claimed to be possessed, and houses that were reputedly haunted.'

'Sprites and goblins!' Ranulf scoffed. 'A legion of devils wander Whitefriars and Southwark, but they are all flesh and blood. The wickedness they perpetrate would shame any self-respecting demon. You don't believe in that nonsense, do you?'

Corbett pursed his lips. Ranulf stared in disbelief. Chanson, delighted, stood rooted to the spot. He loved nothing better, as he'd often whispered to Ranulf, than sombre tales about witches, warlocks and sorcerers.

'Surely, Sir Hugh, it's arrant nonsense!'

'Yes and no,' Corbett replied slowly.

 

Another murder in a monastery – this time within a sealed chamber in the Fenland Abbey of St Martin's-in-the-Marsh.

 

The Abbot, a friend of the King's (he used to be a warrior and once saved the King's life), has been stabbed in his own chamber with his own dagger, yet there seems to be no way anyone could have obtained access to him.

 

The monks are about to organise a cover-up, insisting that some outsider, some outlaw, must have broken in and killed the Abbot, but the King (Edward I) is having none of it. He promptly sends Sir Hugh with his henchman Ranulf to make enquiries.

 

They soon discover that the aristocratic widow who owns all the adjoining lands was on very bad terms with Abbot Stephen, refusing to communicate with him directly and arguing fiercely – through the Prior – about a disputed boundary. But is there more to it than this? It turns out that they knew each other – well – when they were young.

 

Meanwhile, inside the monastery, two more suspects lurk: Taverner, a "cunning man" (a confidence trickster, living on his wits) who claimed to be possessed and whom the Abbot had been planning to exorcise; and an arch-deacon from London, an "old friend" of the Abbot's, who had ostensibly come to witness the exorcism.

 

Then another monk is murdered …

 

I like Hugh Corbett. And I especially like Ranulf, his side-kick, the "Clerk of the Green Wax" – listen to his prayer as he rides into mortal danger: "Oh Lord, look after Ranulf-atte-Newgate, as Ranulf-atte-Newgate would look after you, if he was God and you were Ranulf-atte-Newgate."

 

There is, it must be said, some careless editing, which is very unusual in Headline books (and especially in Paul Docherty's books!).  For example, on p20, Ranulf asks, 'Did you ever meet Abbot Stephen?' 'On a few occasions,' Corbett replies; on p129, we are informed that "he [Corbett] had never met Abbot Stephen".

 

But these are details.

 

What matters to me, always, is that the story grips. It is not a book to read in bed before you sleep. As with all Paul Docherty's medieval novels, you won't. You won't even yawn. In fact, three hours later you'll be getting up, book in hand to make a cup of tea.

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review 2017-01-18 18:16
The Revolt by Douglas Bond
The Revolt: A Novel in Wycliffe's England - Douglas Bond

This book covers a rich era of British history through the rather different perspectives of a young Oxford scholar and a peasant. Events first bring the two together on the battlefield of Crecy where both are forced to grow up quickly.

 

Once they return home, each man encounters the injustice of the age in a different manner. Hugh is at school with John Wycliffe, a man whose legacy requires no explanation. Willard's life in contrast is a struggle. When the plague arrives, status protects no one.

 

While Hugh assists Wycliffe in translating the Bible, Willard lives in anger at the position he is born to. When the men next come together, it is to join again in another type of battle against the corrupt friars and priests of their day.

 

This book does an admirable job of portraying those who took advantage of the church for their own benefit while balancing it with those who truly wished to share the gospel. Including several verses of scripture in Old English made it real. This was the work they were doing that continues to benefit us to this day.

 

Life in the 14th century was vividly brought to life through these characters. I only wish that the book had not ended so abruptly. Received from NetGalley.

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review 2017-01-04 21:12
The Novice's Tale by Ann Swinfen
The Novice's Tale (Oxford Medieval Mysteries) (Volume 2) - Ann Swinfen

As I said in my review of The Bookseller's Tale, I was powerless to resist the urge to move on to this second book in Ann Swinfen's Oxford Medieval Mysteries once I had finished the first. I was not disappointed.

 

While this novel retains the characters and setting that I grew to love in the first book, the author also added some interesting changes. Instead of solely depending on the first person point of view of Nicholas, this installment moves back and forth between him and our titular novice, Emma Thorgold. She winds up being the center of our second mystery, which this time involves some fraud and deceit rather than murder.

 

I was torn between adoring these two and becoming frustrated with them as they both worked toward the same end but with different strategies. My desire was to shake Emma and say, 'Just wait! Nicholas will save the day!" However, Emma is not one to wait for her knight in shining armour to save her, which may be all well because I do not believe that sweet, bookish Nicholas has a suit of armour.

 

The different sort of plot and storytelling made this novel no less captivating than the first. If anything, I am more invested and cheering for Nicholas' success. As the series progresses, we also get to see the characters more deeply developed and their relationships evolve. I particularly enjoyed this little moment of burgeoning friendship between Nicholas and an unexpected ally: 

 

"'I have reason to be grateful to you for your' - he searched for the right word.

 

'Interference? Nosiness into the affairs of others?'

 

'I was going to say your championship of those less fortunate than yourself.'"

 

This book left me hungry for the next. Nicholas has begun to dream of a future that he believes is out of reach, but he cannot help desiring it all the same. I cannot help but want it for him too, and will have the next book in my hands as soon as it is released.

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